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Deal With Taliban Could Lead To The End Of America's Longest War


What does a peace deal in Afghanistan really mean? The U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban. That raises the prospect of U.S. troops eventually leaving. Afghanistan's government was not part of the talks, though, and has resisted immediately going along with some of the terms. What's the problem? We question Afghanistan's ambassador in a moment. We begin with NPR international correspondent Diaa Hadid, who is in neighboring Pakistan. Diaa, welcome back to the program.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Three big parties here - the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government. How are they responding differently?

HADID: Well, the Americans say this is the most realistic deal they could put forward, and it will ultimately lead in peace if it works. The Taliban are celebrating a victory. They see themselves as having pushed out the world's mightiest army from their country. And the Afghan government's saying, we didn't sign this; we didn't agree to it.

INSKEEP: Well, that raises a question, then. How is the deal supposed to work if everybody goes along?

HADID: Right. It's supposed to work like this - basically, within 14 months, most American and NATO forces will leave Afghanistan. That's contingent on the Taliban not harboring militants that could hurt America or hurt allies, like ISIS or al-Qaida. There's a political track as well. The Taliban is meant to negotiate with a delegation led by the Afghan government to settle Afghanistan's political future. And to kick that off, the Americans are meant to facilitate a prisoner exchange that would see thousands of Taliban held by Afghan security forces released in exchange for Afghan security forces who are being held by the Taliban.

But the Afghan government right now is saying, no, we didn't agree to this deal; that should be part of a broader settlement. And the Taliban is saying if these Taliban are not released, there will be no moving forward.

INSKEEP: Why is this exchange so vital?

HADID: This is important for momentum. I spoke to Andrew Watkins. He's a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. And I caught him in Kabul. Here's what he had to say.

ANDREW WATKINS: In order to get any peace process off the ground, there has to be some sense of momentum. And even when disagreements arise, you have to be able to push forward and continue to meet for that next round.

HADID: Basically says you need to see something tangible happening. And there's a lot of ambiguity built into this U.S.-Taliban deal. He says that same ambiguity could help them shackle along something that will get them to the next part of these negotiations.

INSKEEP: NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad. Thanks so much.

Now let's turn to Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States Roya Rahmani is on the line. Good morning.

ROYA RAHMANI: Good morning to you.

INSKEEP: Why is your government reluctant to release the 5,000 prisoners who are scheduled to be released as part of this deal with the U.S. and the Taliban?

RAHMANI: As you probably have heard from the interview with our president, the reason for that reluctance is seeking consensus from the Afghan people because this is a big deal and a big number and ensuring that they will not go back to fight us. And as the president put it yesterday, it is also a logistical matter.

INSKEEP: Oh, because you are talking about thousands of people in various facilities across the country. But I want to understand you. Is it just really a matter of technical details, then, that need to be worked out? Do you feel that this agreement is essentially a good one that Afghanistan's government could support?

RAHMANI: The agreement in our view, overall, just provides an opportunity for peace talks to happen between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. So it is a way to facilitate and bring an end to this long, winding war that has left all Afghans very tired and extremely exhausted. That's the opportunity that we are seeing through this agreement.

INSKEEP: Well, now wait a minute. You're pointing out that there's not actually a peace agreement here. There is an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, and now your government has to negotiate, in an ever-weakening position with your allies, the United States gradually withdrawing troops. Is that in any way to your advantage?

RAHMANI: The United States has stepped up to the plate to facilitate and bring Taliban to the negotiating table. And everything that has been said in that agreement has been said, time and again, that it is conditional. So the cessation of violence, the significant reduction of it is really a wonderful a step towards peace because the Taliban realize that once their ranks and files enters in the city, they understand that their fighting is not legitimate. So that is already a great step towards facilitation of a peace agreement to happen later.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So you feel that the U.S., by setting up this framework, even though the U.S. would be withdrawing troops, there are benefits for your side as well. Now, let me ask about the way the Taliban have responded to this. They've said, we won - we're forcing out foreign forces, and the Afghan government just controls Kabul anyway; we are the victors here. How can you negotiate with people who go in with that point of view?

RAHMANI: People can say whatever they want to say. Taliban are spreading this propaganda for a long time now. The fact that they are saying that the Afghan government is only in control of Kabul is inaccurate because the Taliban are the one - and surveys after surveys, the data, everything shows that they are in control of very few centers of population which are still being serviced by the government. So the government's responsibility is to deliver services. Part of their responsibility is to the people, which the Afghan government does it to all corners of the country.

INSKEEP: But do you believe that the Taliban, despite their statements, will take your government seriously and negotiate with you as the government of Afghanistan?

RAHMANI: Well, this is part of the agreement that they have already signed together with the United States. The agreement was complemented by a declaration also announced by United States and the Afghan government, and there are more details into that. And if we are going to be heading towards a peaceful settlement, there is no other option but to come together, and the Afghans must find an understanding among themselves.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Ambassador - the Taliban have said, we will respect the rights of women, but of course, there is a question of how the Taliban may see the rights of women and whether they mean the same thing as your government might or as Americans might. Do you believe that the Taliban are sincere in promising to respect the rights of women in any final peace agreement?

RAHMANI: Sustainability and durability of peace would depend on the meaningful and real participation and agency of women. If the rights of women are not respected and not protected, there would be no peace.

INSKEEP: Do you believe the Taliban when they have suggested that maybe they've evolved a little bit on this issue from the past?

RAHMANI: I hope they have because other than that there - as I said before, there wouldn't be peace. If you neglect 50% percent of the population, how would you possibly imagine, in these very difficult circumstances, that peace could become a reality? The issue of women's rights is not really an ethical issue; it's a matter of national security for our country, for the region and for United States.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Roya Rahmani of Afghanistan, thanks so much.

RAHMANI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Roya Rahmani is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.