How close is the U.S. to a peace deal to end the war in Afghanistan? The latest round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban has ended. The two sides are trying to come up with a deal that will allow for the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops from the country, but the Afghan government itself hasn’t been directly involved in these talks. On the line now from Islamabad, NPR’s Diaa Hadid is with us. Hi, Diaa.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So the chief U.S. negotiator here is Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. He’s back in D.C. to consult on next steps. Let’s start with the Taliban. What is the Taliban saying right now?
HADID: So they’ve been very optimistic in comments to local media. A senior Taliban official said they hope to have a deal done by the end of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, which actually ends today in Afghanistan. But there’s been a key problem, which is that there hasn’t been much movement on what’s called the intra-Afghan dialogue. And…
MARTIN: OK, so explain that.
HADID: Right. So if we step back a bit, basically, the deal as we know it so far is that American forces will withdraw in exchange for the Taliban agreeing not to host al-Qaida or other militant groups in Afghanistan. But the Americans seem to also want the Taliban to speak to other Afghans to, you know, negotiate, to hammer out an Afghan peace deal, and the Taliban have been resistant to that. And they specifically don’t want to speak to the Afghan government because they say they’re stooges of the West.
So there’s been efforts to bring forward representatives of civil society and political leaders to speak to the Taliban, and they actually have met before, but they haven’t emerged with anything concrete. So it’s unclear how far that will progress. The Taliban say that they can sign a deal – or they can start speaking to the Afghans once they’ve already signed a deal with the U.S, and it’s quite uncertain whether there’ll be any agreement on that.
But what we do know is that the Americans seem to be quite – they really want a deal to happen, and perhaps the Taliban feel like they can push back on this for a bit longer.
MARTIN: But I guess, I mean, the U.S. negotiating team isn’t saying much. But this idea of separating out the two deals, that striking a deal with the Taliban and not making it contingent on some broader deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban would seem to be problematic. I mean, the U.S. and the Taliban can come up with something, but unless the internal struggle, the civil war, really, that’s been ongoing in Afghanistan…
MARTIN: …Unless that’s remedied, then the situation could devolve again, could it not?
HADID: Many Afghans fear that if foreign forces withdraw without leaving behind a deal between Afghans, the country might collapse again into violence. To understand this a bit more, I spoke to Patricia Gossman. She’s with Human Rights Watch, and she closely follows the country. And she basically says that foreign forces shored up Afghan security forces at a time when they’d been fighting the Taliban. And now if those foreign forces withdraw, Afghan security forces might not be able to face the challenges – the Taliban on their own.
So there’s a question. You know, can Afghan national security forces fight the Taliban if there is no deal and if foreign forces withdraw? And Afghans don’t know. They’re very pessimistic. And Gossman says that one of the biggest victims of this may well be women.
PATRICIA GOSSMAN: I think if we look at the gains made since 2001, you know, women’s rights have been at the forefront of those gains, and they’ve been hard fought. I think women feel now but rightly fear that in any deal, or if in fact things don’t lead to peace but lead to renewed fighting, women’s rights will suffer.
HADID: And she says, ultimately, what many Afghans fear is a return to the ’90s. That was when Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan. And the country collapsed into a bitter war that the world largely forgot about until 9/11.