14 September 2020
On 12 September 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke via video link at the opening ceremony of intra-Afghan negotiations held in Doha, under the chairmanship of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “With the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, we are entering a new phase of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” the NATO Secretary General said. “Afghans want peace and so does the international community, which has supported Afghanistan on this long, hard road,” he added.
In a statement the North Atlantic Council urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to “fulfil their commitments to the peace process initiated by the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration” and called on “the Taliban to take decisive steps toward ending violence” and to build “on the progress of the last 19 years to safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities, uphold the rule of law, and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists”.
The statement also reaffirmed the alliance’s “longstanding commitment to Afghanistan, the Afghan people, and the Afghan security forces”. “We went into Afghanistan together, we are adjusting together, and when the conditions are right, we will leave together”, it said.
The start of the talks were also welcomed by the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the talks are a “major opportunity to achieve the long-held aspirations of the people of Afghanistan for peace” and called for a complete cease-fire “to protect civilians and to de-escalate the conflict in order to save lives and to create a conducive environment”. Guterres stressed the need for participation of women in the peace process and the future development of Afghanistan, for which he said the UN will extend its full support. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, secretary general of the OIC, commended the countries who played a key role in making the talks possible, while urging all parties to ensure that the negotiations prove to be constructive, help resolve differences, and lead to comprehensive reconciliation. “Dialogue is the only option that leads to peace, security, and stability for the people of Afghanistan and their country,” he said.
The peace talks became possible after Afghan officials and the Taliban reached a compromise over the release of prisoners at the beginning of the month. The Taliban demanded the release of 5000 prisoners as a precondition for negotiations, a request that initially stalled talks between the parties for months. The Afghan government has since complied and freed all but seven prisoners on the list. The Trump administration is hoping that the negotiations will lead to a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan; the US troop level is already down to around 8,600 from around 12,000. The NATO mission is also in the process of reducing troop numbers from about 16,000 troops to roughly 12,000 troops and is also preparing to make further reductions.