Even after the Afghan government released nearly 5,000 Taliban prisoners to grease the skids ahead of negotiations with the jihadist group, the Taliban explicitly stated that it will not conduct talks directly with the Afghan government because it “does not recognize the Kabul administration as a government.”
In a statement released on Voice of Jihad on Aug. 15, 2020, the Taliban slammed the Afghan government, saying government’s claim that it would lead negotiations is “against established facts.” Indeed, those facts have already been well established.
From Voice of Jihad:
For the past few days, officials of the Kabul administration have been taking a stance against established facts regarding launch of intra-Afghan negotiations and prisoners of the Islamic Emirate.
Two days earlier, an advisor to Kabul administration’s Arg stated that ‘intra-Afghan’ term ascribed to the negotiation process was incorrect and that talks were going to be held between the Kabul administration and Taliban along with other such remarks.
The Islamic Emirate does not recognize the Kabul administration as a government but views it as western imported structure working for the continuation of American occupation.
We only accept and have made preparations for negotiations that were described in the historic Doha agreement and those are intra-Afghan negotiations that cover all parties to the Afghan conflict.
Reaction by spokesman of Islamic Emirate to allegations by Kabul officials about prisoners and negotiations,
Voice of Jihad, Aug. 15, 2020 [PDF]
The Taliban is correct. The agreement between the United States and the Taliban does not call for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. This is because the Taliban has long insisted that the Afghan government is merely a “puppet” and “stooge” of the West. This is a position it has held since the Afghan government was formed in early 2004, one now being reiterated in the Aug. 15 statement.
Instead, the three and a half-page agreement states that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will start intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides on March 10, 2020 … [emphasis ours].”
Nowhere in the agreement does it say that the Taliban will negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the government of Afghanistan, or any other name used to describe the Afghan government. The agreement only calls for “intra-Afghan negotiations with Afghan sides.”
Note that “sides” is plural. This is because the term “intra-Afghan negotiations” refers to talks with all elements of Afghan society: civil, religious, etc. The Afghan government can only send representatives to the “intra-Afghan negotiations,” but the Afghan government cannot lead the talks, nor can it be directly represented.
Led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, the U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban that ensured the Afghan government could not conduct direct talks with the Taliban.
Instead, at best, the Afghan government can only be a party to the deal. It can be one of many “sides” that are tasked with negotiating with the Taliban.
The Taliban insisted from the beginning that the Afghan government was not legitimate, and therefore it would not negotiate with it. This is why the negotiations leading up to the U.S.-Taliban deal, which is routinely described as a “peace deal” but is really a withdrawal deal, excluded the Afghan government.
The Taliban refused to allow the Afghan government to be a party to the talks, and the U.S. made agreements with the Taliban without consulting the Afghan government (such as the lopsided and ill-advised prisoner exchange). This, in turn, legitimized the Taliban’s stance that the Afghan government is subservient to the United States. And the Afghan government reinforced this perception by agreeing to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for just 1,000 of its own men.