“The only way to break the current stalemate is to form an interim government,” said Jafar Mahdavi, a former lawmaker involved in the peace talks. “The Taliban do not accept Ghani’s rule and they do not join his government.”
Ghani has repeatedly insisted he will remain on the subject for his full five-year term and see the peace talks bear fruit.
But a new round of negotiations, which have made almost no progress since starting in September, stopped this week when two of the top Taliban negotiators did not return to negotiations in Qatar after visiting Pakistan for consultations.
Baradar, a founder of the Taliban movement, spent eight years in prison in Pakistan but was released in 2018 at the request of the United States to participate in the peace process.
Pakistan’s role in the peace talks has suddenly taken on new significance in the last few weeks. The country has long said it supports the negotiations and seeks a stable Afghanistan. But it has also hosted fleeing Taliban leaders for years and protected violent anti-Afghan militias operating along the long, porous border between neighboring Muslim countries.
Complicating matters for the Afghan government is a Friday in which US troops in Afghanistan are reduced from 5,000 to about 2,500. This was the biggest demand from the militants, who in February signed a separate agreement with US officials.
The reduction of troops could cause the Afghan government to lose much of its remaining leverage in the talks. Ghani’s position was already weakened when he agreed to release about 5,000 imprisoned Taliban fighters under US pressure to seal the February Pact.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that troop downsizing was expected to continue as planned, though widely opposed in Congress. A recently enacted defense police ban prevents the U.S. government from using funds to pay for it without a “comprehensive interagency assessment of risks and consequences” by leaving only a minimal U.S. military presence in the country.
Another stumbling block in the talks is the continuing high level of Taliban attacks. A recent wave of undisclosed targeted killings, including shootings and car bombs, has left several dozen bourgeois and democratic activists, journalists, officials and others dead. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, and U.S. military officials made the same accusation last week.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Afghan peace, visited a whirlwind in the region last week and held meetings in Pakistan and Qatar as well as Kabul in an effort to ensure the survival of the US-Taliban agreement and pressed for nationwide ceasefire as a result of the Doha talks.
Khalilzad met with a number of political leaders and diplomats here, but Ghani refused to see him. The president, like many Afghans, felt betrayed by the generous terms of the deal he brokered with the rebels. Now they see Khalilzad as pushing too hard on a quick fix among Afghans, especially amid local media reports that he encouraged an interim government. Last week, Khalilzad called on both sides to reduce the violence, but did not accuse the Taliban of the recent targeted attacks.
The head of the US diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, said in a statement on Twitter on Wednesday that the US is not pushing for a new government.
“We have not advocated for and the United States is not in favor of an interim government,” he wrote. “The results of the peace talks in Afghanistan are up to the Afghans, and we believe that these results should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people.”
Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Government Council for Peace and Reconciliation, has said for months that he would be open to the creation of an interim government if it would help the prospects for peace. Abdullah was Ghani’s biggest rival for the presidency in the last two elections.
“We need to be flexible in our thinking,” Abdullah told an international virtual conference last year. “Nothing should deter us from achieving a lasting, lasting and acceptable peace for all Afghans, including the Taliban.”
Some Afghan officials and experts have called for an interim government to be used only as a last resort.
“Forming an interim government now would be premature and irresponsible,” said Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. “It would mean the dismantling of the current government, and the members would have no real authority to enter into an agreement. There will probably be strife among them. This may be a possible outcome of conversations, but it may not come first. ”
But there are still fears about what an interim government would mean for the democratic gains made since the Taliban were forced out of power.
“The people of Afghanistan do not support an interim government because there is no guarantee that its formation can end the war in the country,” said Mohammad Khalid Momand, a Member of Parliament. “Afghans do not want to lose the last 18 years of achievements.”
Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.