White House to review landmark US-Taliban deal for peace talks with Kabul

Top Afghan officials on Saturday welcomed the decision of US President Joe Biden’s administration to review a landmark US deal with the Taliban and focus on whether the insurgents have reduced attacks in Afghanistan in keeping with the agreement.

Washington struck a deal with the Taliban in Qatar last year to begin withdrawing its troops in return for security guarantees from the militants and a commitment to kick-start peace talks with the Afghan government.

But Biden administration officials are to re-evaluate the pact after violence across Afghanistan has surged in recent weeks, despite the Taliban and Afghan government continuing talks since September.

Afghanistan’s Acting Minister for Peace Abdullah Khenjani said the outcome of the review should be a truce to end attacks in the war-ravaged country.

Khenjani said the review should lead to “an immediate stop to violence and achieving permanent peace” in a video statement on Saturday.

President Joe Biden’s newly appointed national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib and “made clear the United States’ intention to review” the deal, said National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne late Friday.

Washington wants to check that the Taliban is “living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders”, her statement continued.

Sullivan “underscored that the US will support the peace process with a robust and regional diplomatic effort, which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire”.

Sullivan also discussed the United States’ support for protecting recent progress made on the rights of women and minority groups as part of the peace process.

The Taliban said they remained “committed to the agreement and honour our commitments” when contacted by AFP.

“We expect the other side to remain committed to the agreement too,” Mohammad Naeem, the group’s spokesman in Qatar, said.

Calls for permanent ceasefire

The move to review the deal was met with a sigh of relief from top officials in Kabul after months of speculation over how the new Biden administration would potentially recalibrate Washington’s Afghan policy.

Mohib, the Afghan national security adviser, tweeted that during the call the two sides “agreed to work toward a permanent ceasefire and a just and durable peace” in the country.

Another top Afghan government official lambasted the Taliban’s failure to live up to the February 2020 deal, saying the agreement had failed to achieve its stated goals.

“The agreement so far did not deliver a desired goal of ending Taliban’s violence and bringing a ceasefire desired by the Afghans,” Sediq Sediqqi, deputy interior minister and former spokesman to President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter.

We welcome the U.Sā€™ intention to review the Feb 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement. The agreement so far, did not deliver a desired goal of ending Taliban's violence and bringing a ceasefire desired by the Afghans. The Taliban did not live up to its commitments. https://t.co/sS96G7XMuI
ā€” Sediq Sediqqi (@SediqSediqqi) January 23, 2021

Deadly attacks and high-profile assassinations in Afghanistan have increased in recent months, particularly in Kabul where several journalists, activists, judges and politicians have been murdered in brazen daylight attacks.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for these killings, but Afghan and US officials have blamed the group for the murders.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, told his US Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that “we want to end this so-called forever war”.