Sultan Barakat is director and founder of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and teaches Politics at the University of York. He has been involved in negotiations between the Afghan government, the Taliban and the United States for years, and he still hopes that there will be a political agreement to stabilize the country. Talk to elDiario.es from Doha, the venue for the talks since 2020.
It surprised him the rapid fall of Kabul?RELATED
Yes, I was surprised by the fragility of the government. That said, a few days before the crash there were some talks between the parties in Doha to ensure a peaceful and orderly transition. There was a clear feeling that there could be no military solution for Afghanistan and that an agreement had to be worked out. It was the pact as the Taliban closed in on Kabul. It was agreed that the Taliban would be out of the city, that the Americans would evacuate the foreigners, and the two parties would agree on a government and make sure it was done peacefully.
The surprise was that President Ghani left the presidential palace. It was a surprise how quickly he left power, he may not have been informed of the political agreement that was closing. That sped everything up. It was a surprise even to the president’s closest advisers, who had no idea of his evacuation plans. That upset the balance of power and the Taliban sent their people to secure the city.
If the president had stayed, could we be in a different place now?
I think we would have been in a better place to negotiate a common understanding that does not look like a surrender. It would have been so much better if he had stayed.
Some voices from the Afghan government also say that if the United States had delayed the withdrawal of troops for a few weeks, a political pact would have been reached. Do you agree?
No. I don’t think it would have made any difference because the main difficulty is that that party has put too much trust in the United States and used it as an excuse for not engaging sufficiently politically with the Taliban. And that has been happening continuously in almost two years of negotiations. The hand of the United States was forced.
And what are the chances of a transitional government now?
So far, the Taliban have surprised us by how disciplined they are being. Generally, in these types of circumstances there is total chaos and it does not seem like it has happened. There is no bloodbath in Kabul. At the same time, the Taliban appear to be reaching out to others. We have seen him in the last two days in the attempt to form a government talking to political leaders. Most importantly, they have not officially declared the emirate and they have not demanded international recognition of a particular political system, which means that they are keeping the door open to different options. And that’s hopeful.
But their representatives they say that in any case it will not be a democracy
They have no faith in democracy as you and I understand it. And they have reasons for it. In the last 20 years of supposed democracy, every time elections were held there was chaos and results were imposed with pressure from outside. They do not have a good concept of democracy. They see it associated with corruption. They look at all these people who have fled the country now that they were working under the umbrella of democracy. Certainly, there has not been a good experience.
I believe that we must focus our attention on this transitional moment where they can stabilize the situation, including the economic situation, and make sure that the borders are open. They cannot do that without the international community. For there to be stabilization, they have to involve the rest of the world, the rest of the actors.
And how can they achieve that if we are looking at information on how the taliban go door to door to find people who worked for the United States and NATO? Is there a gap between what the leaders say and what is happening on the ground?
I don’t know if the information is correct, the information from Kabul has been uneven. And I don’t think that represents the whole picture. The official position is that they are not going to do that. The airport area is especially worrying, there are rebel elements or bandits. The commitment is that they do not take people out of their home. But I don’t know, I’m in Doha.
This is based on an intelligence document for the UN.
Well, I don’t know, maybe there are isolated cases, but I think that in general they have managed to prevent it from being the case. But there have been cases against political leaders.
The international community is concerned about women’s rights in particular, and there are scenes and testimonies of women who have suffered abuse or cannot go to work. Do you think that is going to play an important role in a possible deal? Do you see any signs of hope?
We see a big change from the 1996 position on women. Now the Taliban understand the critical role of women in the economy and society. So far the commitment has been that those women who are working will continue working. The only condition is that it be “within the limits of Islam.” This is a very broad concept and it is not easy to interpret. All they’ve said so far is about him hijab, which is something that 99.9% of Afghan women already wear. Afghanistan is a very conservative Islamic country. There are more controversial areas such as women in movies or presenting programs on TV. Although at first it seemed that the Taliban had no problem being interviewed by a woman.
Do you think there will be women in the Government?
Maybe, but they have a special difficulty with the concept of inclusion. They do not see the government as a way to balance different parts just for who they are, but to serve the country’s administration as best as possible … We’ll see. I hope there are women, but I’m not sure if it will happen.
And will there be politicians from previous governments? We have seen Hamid Karzai in the negotiation. Can he or members of his government be there?
I don’t know about Karzai specifically, but there will be figures from outside the Taliban. So I think it is encouraging that they are willing to discuss the composition.
Are you expecting any announcements soon?
I look forward to announcements. What is missing now is for the international community to clarify itself. I think we can’t wait for the Taliban to show us what they say. If we keep waiting, it will be too late. It is more constructive for the international community to speak to them now, in the hope that this way they can guide them towards a better result as we all want.
Are Americans in any way involved in the talks now?
Americans are involved at different levels, in security, so as not to assault each other. Politically, no.
To what extent do you think the Taliban need external financial support?
I think they need it and they must realize that. Obviously, they will need financial help even if they do not have to maintain an army with as many means as before.
And can the international community use it to lobby for respect for the rights of women or minorities?
Yes, if you do it smartly and not stupidly. Not if it imposes it as a direct condition. The international community has a responsibility to get involved and understand the perspective of the other side.
And how do you imagine the position of Afghanistan in a few months? Similar to that of Saudi Arabia, a very conservative regime with which the West has many economic ties?
It might be its own thing. It is not a monarchy so it has its own nuances. It is an Islam that has a socialist base.
Could it be closer to Russia?
I don’t think so, although it is what Russia and China would like.