Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a long-sought deal in Doha on Saturday that would see the two foes agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees.
The agreement, which could herald the start of a new era for Afghanistan after decades of conflict, is expected to also lead to a dialogue between the Kabul government and the Taliban that, if successful, could ultimately see the Afghan war wind down.
But the position of the Afghan government, which has been excluded from direct US-Taliban talks, remains unclear and the country is gripped by a fresh political crisis amid contested election results.
The deal, drafted over a tempestuous year of dialogue marked by the abrupt cancellation of the effort by US President Donald Trump in September, is expected to lay out a timetable for a US force withdrawal.
“There’s been so much speculation about the contents of the deal… we know the broad outlines but it’s not even clear whether the full terms of the deal will be made public,” said Andrew Watkins, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group consultancy.
While Kabul will not be represented at the Doha signing, set for around 1100 GMT, it will send a six-person taskforce to the Qatari capital to make initial contact with the Taliban political office, established in 2013.
Afghans release balloons and pigeons in Jalalabad as they celebrate the reduction of violence in the country, ahead of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban. Photo: AFP
– ‘Enormous opportunity’ –
Qatar, a peninsula nation protruding from the Arabian desert into the Gulf and better known for its gas riches and controversial 2022 World Cup bid victory, was a seemingly unlikely choice to host negotiations.
But by providing neutral space for talks on ending the conflict it has boosted its international profile and helped it defy a painful regional embargo enforced by Saudi Arabia, which accuses it of being too close to Islamist movements.
As many as 30 nations are expected to be represented at Saturday’s signing in the Qatari capital. The US will stage a separate ceremony in Kabul with the Afghan government at 1215 GMT, an Afghan source told AFP.