The UK and Afghanistan Contents

Chapter 8: The peace talks in Doha and the future

451.The FCDO described the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government as “potentially as significant as the Bonn Agreement of December 2001”.733

452.Discussion until December focused on the procedural rules. There were two contentious issues. The first was the form of Islamic law that would be used in case of disagreements. The Taliban insisted on the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, which the Afghan government-aligned delegation734 said would exclude the Shia community.735 The second was the Taliban’s insistence that the talks be based on the deal it signed with the US in February 2020, to which the Afghan government was not a party736 (see Chapter 6).

453.In early December 2020, the two teams came to an agreement on rules and procedures, although it is not clear what decisions were reached. The agenda for talks has not yet been agreed.737

454.Lord Houghton said Afghan society was “exhausted by the war”.738 Ms Akbar said that “for the majority of Afghans”, negotiations were “the most reasonable way forward”;739 a peace process to bring the Taliban “into the system” was accepted “on the whole” by Afghan society.740

455.A negotiated settlement is the only long-term solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Impact of the US–Taliban agreement on the talks

456.Ms Lyons and Baroness Goldie said the US–Taliban agreement (discussed in Chapter 6) had paved the way for the talks.741 Ms Akbar however said the US having declared “timelines for withdrawal”, before talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, had put “a lot of extra pressure on the talks” and made them “less likely to succeed”.742

457.She said that if the Taliban entered the talks considering itself “the victor”, it would be “very difficult” to “deliver something durable”.743 Mr Watkins said that the “entire process” had been “developed … on the assumption that the Americans would withdraw or would seek to withdraw as quickly as possible”. The negotiations were a way “of bringing the Taliban back into power and giving it at least some of what it wants in exchange for it discontinuing its insurgency”.744

458.Notably, the agreement did not include Taliban commitments to cease attacks on Afghan government and military targets. Dr Manza said that since the agreement there had been “extraordinary levels of violence carried out by the Taliban to increase its leverage at the table of the peace talks”.745

459.We regret that the US’s agreement with the Taliban was not conditional on the outcome of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The US’s unilateral commitment to withdraw troops has undermined the Afghan government’s leverage in the talks.

460.The violence perpetrated by the Taliban against the Afghan state and civilians is unacceptable. We regret that this violence has increased since the US–Taliban deal in February 2020.

The delegations and their objectives

The Afghan government-aligned negotiating team


461.The Afghan government-aligned negotiating team comprises 21 people, of whom four are women.746

462.Ms Lyons said it was “obvious that there are currently not enough women”;.747 it was necessary to advocate greater participation.748 Lord Ahmad said the UK, “in partnership with Germany, Indonesia and Afghanistan”, had “used its seat at the UN Security Council to promote a greater role for women in the peace process”.749

463.Dr Samar said four out of 21 was, nonetheless, “better than nothing”. The participation of women in negotiations was “a very powerful tool” which would “put pressure on the Taliban to accept the reality and the existence of women being part of society”.750

464.Mr Bowden said it was “potentially a peace process between urban elites and the Taliban representing the rural countryside”, so “stronger regional and local representation of civil society and women’s groups in the process” was necessary.751

465.Ms Lyons said the Afghan government negotiating team was “made up [of] people from a wide section of Afghanistan”, although there were concerns that it might not be sufficiently representative. The team had “been reaching out to civil society, and to others, to try to engage people throughout Afghanistan”.752 Ms Akbar said the discussions needed to be open to “voices from the outside to reflect the diversity of Afghanistan and … social and cultural change”. 753

466.Afghan women should play a significant role in the peace negotiations in Doha. We commend the four women in the Afghan government-aligned delegation for their important work in very challenging circumstances.

467.The UK Government should advocate for greater representation of women in the Afghan government-aligned delegation to the peace talks.

468.The UK Government should support engagement between the negotiators and civil society groups to increase the representation of the range of Afghan society.

Objectives and level of consensus

469.Witnesses considered the Afghan government’s objectives. Ms Lyons said it had “made incredible compromises” in order “to build confidence and to get to the peace table”, particularly the release of Taliban prisoners specified in the US–Taliban deal.754

470.Sir Richard Stagg, Ms Miller and Mr Dobbins thought the Afghan government had a consolidated position.755 Mr Dobbins said that as long as negotiations were ongoing and did “not pose fundamental issues to the interest of the main Afghan parties”, the consensus would hold.756

471.Ms Miller, however, thought the Afghan government lacked “cohesion”.757 Ms Gaston said that “all the leading politicians and powerbrokers, and anyone who is sitting at the table in Doha could be a spoiler if they do not like the way the negotiations play out”.758 Many warlords and power brokers “on a personal level would like to see the end of conflict” but had “a lot to lose in terms of their political and economic interests”.759 One of their priorities was avoiding accountability for their past behaviour.760

472.Professor Maley and Dr Ibrahimi said “some political figures” were “so hostile to the President that they might well seek to undermine the negotiating position of the Afghan government out of spite”.761 For example, in November 2020 Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (a former Afghan Prime Minister who entered a peace deal with President Ghani’s government in 2016) announced he was opening separate peace talks with the Taliban.762

473.The Afghan government appears to have developed a consensus for the negotiations. The possibility remains, however, that power brokers within, and associated with, the government may act as spoilers if they regard their economic or political interests to be threatened.

The Taliban


474.The 21-strong Taliban delegation is all male.763

475.Abdul Hakim Izhaqzai’s is the Taliban’s chief negotiator. He is a “hard-line cleric” based in Pakistan, who until recently was the head of the council of Taliban clerics and the Taliban judiciary, and has sought to legitimise the group’s acts of violence through religious edicts. Abdul Hakim Izhaqzai “does not have much experience as a political negotiator”. His appointment is aimed at “symbolically” reassuring fighters “that, whatever the agreement, Taliban leaders will prioritise … their idea of Islamic values”.764

476.The UK Government and its international partners should advocate for the Taliban delegation to include women.

Objectives and level of consensus

477.Ms Clark said there were “different currents of thought within the Taliban” about peace talks. There were “figures … who would like a negotiated settlement … particularly at the local level”.765 “Not everyone” was “a warmonger” or thought a military victory “possible or advisable”.766 Ms Akbar said some Taliban members were “sick and tired of the bloodshed”. “At the soldier and fighter level” some Taliban members “see that their leaders are outside the country engaging internationally while they continue to get killed”.767

478.Sir Richard Stagg agreed that there were “some reasons for believing in the genuineness of the Taliban’s interest in talks”.768 Dr Jackson said there was a “broad consensus” within the group “on sitting down with other Afghans”.769

479.However, it was not clear that this represented “a fundamental change in strategy”.770 Sir Richard Stagg said there was “evidence that [the Taliban] continue to feel that they need a military route to success”; it was “unclear whether they will abandon that easily or quickly”.771 While Mr Hakimi and Baroness Goldie thought the Taliban had accepted that it could not win militarily,772 Ms Akbar thought its “commanders and leaders” believed “that a military takeover is possible and feasible, especially with the US withdrawal”.773

480.Falanx Assynt said the Taliban would “anticipate talks breaking down”, but “work to secure a full US withdrawal before this point”. This would “increase its already substantial ability to weaken the government’s hold on power by seizing control of new territory”.774 Ms Clark was “very sceptical” about the Taliban’s intentions: “plan B is a negotiated end to the war and a political settlement”, and “plan A is military takeover”.775

481.The Taliban had rejected “an early ceasefire or a substantial reduction in violence” in order to allow it to participate in negotiations but “not compromise its ability to pursue the military option, if it comes to that”. However, the Taliban leadership understood that a military victory was “a less favourable outcome … than a negotiated settlement,” because the latter gave an “opportunity for international legitimacy at the same time, which it desires”.776

482.The Taliban has shown itself to be willing to engage in the peace talks, but its commitment to a negotiated settlement and to power-sharing remains unclear. The Taliban’s desired outcome from the talks, beyond the departure of foreign troops, is not known.

Potential for compromise

483.We heard about the Taliban’s ability and willingness to compromise. It had repeatedly stated two objectives: the withdrawal of US troops and the establishment of an Islamic government.777 Beyond this, Ms Miller said the Taliban did not have “a well-defined political vision” for the talks.778 It had said “very little about the form of government that it would be open to”.779 Mr Bayley said the UK had “yet to discern in face-to-face contact with the Taliban its views on an end state in Afghanistan”.780

484.It was “not yet clear what the Taliban would require in exchange for a renunciation of violence”.781 It would have to develop its “political vision” and a “more detailed set of political demands” during the talks, “while at the same time … having to bring along its rank and file in a process of consensus”.782 Dr Jackson said this would “take time”.783

485.The FCDO said it remained “unclear … how and whether the movement will maintain cohesion”.784 The Taliban seemed “to have pretty good command and control” (as discussed in Chapter 5), but it was “under pressure from the ranks not to make major concessions”.785 Ms Akbar said it had “mobilised young Afghans … with the narrative that the state is completely un-Islamic and that everything it represents is against Islam and the beliefs of the Afghan people.” Concessions to that same state would be “very hard to bear”.786 There was “anxiety” within the Taliban that the peace process could lead to the defection of some commanders “to other groups who are fighting against the state in Afghanistan”.787

486.Mr Haqqani was sceptical about compromise because the Taliban’s worldview was “totalitarian”. It believed “that its emir is the commander of the faithful and represents the will of God”. This made compromise difficult: “With a belief system such as that, will it be content with having two or three ministries in a coalition government? Similarly, will it be possible for it to accept a policy being made by others when its belief system says that this is the only truth?”788

487.Dr Jackson concluded that the Taliban was more united than the Afghan government-aligned negotiating team, but it was “far too soon to say” if could hold up its end of a peace deal.789

488.The Taliban leadership appears to have significant control of its forces. However, its negotiators’ ability to compromise is likely to be limited by the group’s ideology, the narrative with which it has inspired its fighters and the risk of defections to other extremist groups.

Complexity and timeline

489.Mr Hakimi said the talks were “too rushed”.790 There had “not been the kind of time that you see in other peace processes, real concerted engagement to try to help the Taliban think through what is feasible and to help the other side of the table think through how to engage with the Taliban”.791

490.Lord Houghton said “it would be a brave man who suggested that political and ideological reconciliation will be swift, violence-free or relatively smooth and sustainable”.792 The level of “distrust” between the parties was “really high”793 and “a lot of friction in the months ahead” was to be expected.794

491.Ms Miller put the chances of a final agreement at “well below 50%”. This was because the peace process had “been instigated predominantly through external pressure”: it had not been a case of “the parties themselves … appreciating that one or the other side is clearly going to lose or that there is an unresolvable stalemate and that therefore they need to come to terms”. Nonetheless, it was “a high enough probability to try”.795

492.On the timeline for an agreement, Ms Miller said that “a year would be fast.”796 The discussions were not just about the Taliban and the Afghan government, but about the past 40 years.797 Ms Lyons cautioned that there were “a lot of weapons in Afghanistan and a lot of potential spoilers”, and time would be needed to ensure that “as many of these interest groups as possible have their wishes satisfied to a reasonable extent.”798

493.Mr Bowden said that “high expectations of quick breakthroughs” needed “to be managed far better”.799 Ms Miller said it would be important to ensure there was “enough patience, among … the external powers that are the instigators and catalysts of the peace process”.800

494.Achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan is likely to be a protracted and contentious process. The Government should encourage the parties, and regional and international actors, to remain engaged in the process, even if progress is slow.

External parties and the talks

The US

495.Dr Siddiqa said that “all regional actors, even Afghan actors” realised that for “withdrawal talks, peace talks or intra-Afghan talks” to succeed, “the presence in the room of … the United States of America, backed by NATO” was necessary.801

496.Mr Dobbins said “if the US leaves before negotiations produce a result, they will never produce a result. If the US leaves after they produce a result but before that result is implemented, it will never be implemented.”802

497.As discussed in Chapter 6, there is considerable uncertainty over the US’s role. The policy of President-elect, Joe Biden, is not known, and it is not clear whether the outgoing Trump Administration’s determination to withdraw troops will be completed before the handover.

498.The ongoing engagement of the US is critical to the success of the Afghan peace talks. We are concerned that the US’s agreement with the Taliban risks critically undermining the Afghan government in the talks.

499.The UK Government should make clear to the US that ongoing US military and diplomatic engagement is essential to achieving a successful negotiated settlement, and that further US and NATO troop withdrawals should be paused.

The UK

500.Ms Lyons said that the UK’s work “with Pakistan and … the Afghan government”, had been a “significant contributing factor” to the talks being agreed.803 It worked “closely” with the ‘quint’—Germany, Norway, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Qatar—which had “dedicated significant resources in preparing to support intra-Afghan negotiations”.804

501.Lord Ahmad had “joined the formal start of the peace negotiations”.805 The UK was “supporting the Afghan negotiation team directly”,806 including the Ministry of Peace through “a targeted Peace and Reconciliation Programme, funded through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund”.807

502.He said it was necessary to “recognise the reality on the ground: the Taliban holds both territory and influence”. UK support to the peace talks included UK officials meeting Taliban representatives in Doha.808 It was not, however, providing any “specific support” to the Taliban.809

503.The UK would “continue to press for a settlement that protects the hard-won gains of the past nineteen years, including the rights of women and minorities”. It was “clear that any political resolution involving the Taliban should protect and build on” this progress.810 The UK was “candid and direct that any support by the UK Government and our key allies is dependent on the Taliban’s commitment”.811

504.Lord Ahmad said he raised these points at the start of negotiations, and in further discussions including with the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan and “in all our conversations with the Taliban”.812

505.The “ideological philosophy” of the Taliban had to be “addressed”.813 It was necessary to “challenge” claims “that any religion sanctions discrimination, persecution or the targeting of women and girls”. The UK would engage with the Taliban and faith leaders in this regard.814

506.Lord Ahmad said that tackling Afghanistan’s drug economy “at its core” had also “been very much part of our discussions”.815

507.We welcome the UK’s enduring commitment to human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities, in Afghanistan. We regret that the UK is unlikely to have sufficient leverage to ensure these rights are protected.

508.Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK was emphasising to the Taliban the importance of “inclusivity”. We are not confident that the Taliban will embrace inclusivity, or develop respect for the rights of women and minorities, or fundamental principles of human rights.

509.Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the Taliban’s “ideological philosophy” needed to be addressed. We were provided with no information by the Government on how it or its partners were seeking to influence the Taliban in this regard, or its assessment of how successful this might be. We request this information.

510.We welcome the Government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion and belief. There is an urgent need for moderate Islamic scholarship to become more widely known and celebrated.

511.We would especially like to learn more about the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Declaration of Humanity, referred to by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the promotion of freedom of religion or belief (Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), in the FCDO’s strategy.

512.The Government should be giving careful consideration to how, in the event of the Doha talks resulting in an agreement, it will handle its future relationship with the Taliban, which will necessarily be part of any power-sharing arrangement, and how it will manage aid programmes in areas under Taliban control or influence. We request that the Government in due course shares its thinking on this issue with Parliament.

Regional actors


513.Dr Manza said that Pakistan had become “more helpful” in the peace process and had “helped to foment the talks”.816 Ms Miller said this was “not surprising”, as the US was now doing “exactly” what Pakistan had been telling it to do for 20 years.817

514.Sir Richard Stagg said Pakistan probably wanted the Taliban to be “able to control at least certain areas of policy” and to “ensure that the government in Kabul did not become a hostile force”.818 Mr Haqqani said that while Pakistan said in public that it wanted power sharing to result from the talks, in private it wanted the Taliban to control Afghanistan, “as long as it takes place in a context in which Pakistan does not earn the wrath of major powers such as the United States”.819

515.The UK should continue to work with Pakistan in support of a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.

Other countries

516.Mr Dobbins said that China, Russia and Iran all favoured a negotiated outcome.820 Much of this hinged on their “very conflictual attitude” towards the US military presence. They did “not want the US to leave too quickly … because they recognise the instability that would ensue”, but did “not want the US to stay for ever”.821 The Human Security Centre said that China was “likely have little interest in the specific outcomes of the peace process, provided that the end result is greater political stability and security”.822

517.Mr Dobbins said the Gulf states were supportive of the negotiations.823 Qatar was making a significant contribution as the host.824

518.India was “not favourably disposed to the negotiations”. It particularly opposed “aspects that would remove US troops from Afghanistan” which it thought “might lead to further fragmentation in Afghanistan, further disorder and greater Pakistani influence”.825

Possible outcomes

519.Dr Nemat said a “successful outcome … would be one that results in an immediate end to violence, or a comprehensive plan for a ceasefire … reconciliation and the reintegration of armed forces from both sides” and ensuring everyone was included.826 Continuing with the status quo—“further years of violent conflict”827—would be “a failure”.828

520.Ms Akbar said violence could intensify if talks failed.829 Dr Siddiqa said that if the US were to remain but “talks fail or do not take off”, there would be “a level of violence, but it may not increase extensively”. If the Americans had left and talks failed, violence would “definitely increase”;830 Mr Hakimi and Mr Haqqani said that there would be a civil war.831

521.A successful outcome to the Afghan peace talks must include a ceasefire, the reconciliation and reintegration of armed groups, respect for the rights of all Afghan citizens and a commitment not to provide support for terrorist groups. It is likely to include some sort of power sharing with the Taliban.

522.If a negotiated settlement is not reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the outcome is likely to be more violence and possibly a civil war.

Possible changes to the constitution

523.Dr Antonio De Lauri said the Taliban describes “the existing Afghan ruling system as illegal and a product of foreign powers”, while “the Afghan government defends the current system as fully Islamic”.832 An agreement would have to “introduce elements that will satisfy the Taliban’s demand for a more Islamic system”, although it had “not articulated what is not Islamic enough about the existing system and what changes it wants”.833

524.Witnesses expected the Taliban to demand a role for religious authorities,834 such as “a religious council of elders”835 or a “body with the power to oversee the executive”.836 However, Mr Davy said the expected outcome was an Islamic republic, not an Islamic emirate.837

A share of government and security positions

525.Sir Richard Stagg said the Taliban would “need to be … able to show its supporters that they had a genuine voice in the government after an agreement”.838 Mr Williams said this would have to include “governorships in the south and east”.839

526.It would also want “a major share of army and police positions”.840 Ms Miller foresaw “some amalgamation of the security forces, the existing state forces and the Taliban forces”.841 It would be a “major loss” of patronage for “key powerbrokers”.842 However, Mr Williams thought this was “unlikely to result in renewed conflict in the short term, provided that the generous international funding to the security forces continues”.843

527.If the Taliban is brought into the Afghan government, it will expect to be given political and military roles. This may result in competition with existing power brokers.

Human rights, including the rights of women

528.Ms Akbar said “concerns about women’s rights in the peace process” were “very legitimate”.844 There was an attempt “to pit women’s rights and peace against each other”.845 Mr Davy was concerned there was “perhaps a readiness to sacrifice some of the gains” made since 2001.846 The Taliban had “been trying to be very ambiguous when it speaks about women’s rights and not to give a lot of very specific answers”.847

529.Dr Nemat said Afghan women were “trying very hard … to ensure that there is no compromise that turns a blind eye to the political, economic and social future of half the population”.848 The Afghan negotiators should “ask for the voice of experts and activists from outside” to inform deliberations on women’s rights.849

530.There are “a range of human rights issues” on which the Taliban had “a very different … understanding”. How freedom of expression was handled in the peace process was “one of the key areas of concern”, as was “the extent to which the Taliban [is] open to our current understanding of the rights of minorities.”850 The Human Security Centre said there was “a strong humanitarian risk” to the Hazaras, “Persian-speaking Shi’a communities in Herat and Farah Provinces”, Turkic peoples such as the Bayat and Ismaili communities in Badakhshan Province.851

531.Dr Nemat said some “members of the negotiating team” had made comments “that give specific indications of what form of Islamic order both sides are foreseeing for the future”. These raised “quite serious” concerns for women, minority ethnic groups and other religious groups.852 Amnesty International UK said there was “no indication that the Taliban’s determination to repress and deny rights including of religious and cultural expression and identity and equal rights of women and girls” had diminished.853

Role of the international community

532.Ms Lyons said the negotiations, would “be critical in demonstrating … the world’s commitment to women’s rights”.854

533.First, the UK and other donors should call for “ample time and space to discuss rights issues”, and “consultations with a broad range of Afghans, including women’s rights advocates, victims’ representatives, and other civil society groups”.855 Lord Ahmad said the UK was working with “women’s networks and civil society” to this end.856 Human Rights Watch said this should include providing financial support to enable the participation of civil society actors.857

534.Second, it would be “essential” for donors to “use their leverage and financial assistance to insist that the parties make no compromises that would undermine” their rights. The UK and other donors “should reinforce with both parties their expectation that a political agreement will protect fundamental rights, including women’s rights”.858

535.Ms Miller nonetheless expected “some weakening” of these “rights and freedoms”.859

536.Mr Watkins said that the utility of “Western statements” on “what we hope to see from a political settlement” came down to “whether or not such an approach will reach the Taliban and impact it in any way”. It had “demonstrated very clearly over the last two decades that it does not take such statements or such principles, or even the military might of the Western world, and bend to that attempt to … influence.”860

537.Human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities, are in danger of being a casualty of the Afghan peace talks. The Taliban has not demonstrated that it has changed, and it is ideologically opposed to the progress made since 2001.

538.The UK Government should continue to use its diplomatic influence to ensure that sufficient time is devoted to the discussion of human rights issues in Doha, and call for the involvement of a broad range of Afghans in the negotiations. It should provide financial support to enable civil society groups and rights advocates to participate in the talks.

539.The UK should continue to make clear that its future financial support for Afghanistan is conditional on respect for human rights, including the rights of women and minorities and freedom of speech.

Illicit drugs

540.Dr Felbab-Brown said international donors should “resist pressing for aggressive illicit drug eradication to be a condition of a peace settlement”. This would be “likely to produce a backlash amongst the public and potentially undermine support for the peace process”.861

Foreign and security policy

541.Ms Miller said a final agreement would have to have “some elements … related … to the composition of the government and their principles of foreign policy”. This would be needed to reassure first Afghanistan’s neighbours, and second the US and its partners on counter-terrorism.862

542.Countering the threat from terrorist groups in Afghanistan will remain important to the UK. The Government will need to work with the US and other NATO Allies how best to address this challenge in the circumstances either of a negotiated settlement at Doha, or of a continuation of the current hostilities.

Possible future role for the US and its partners

Security support during the peace talks

543.Witnesses said that ongoing international commitments to support the Afghan government provided it with important leverage in the peace talks. This included commitments to the Resolute Support Mission and funding for the security forces.863 It was necessary for the Taliban to know “that they cannot take military ascendancy for granted once we step away”.864

544.A discussed in Chapter 6, as a result of the US–Taliban deal in February 2020, NATO Allies agreed to “implement conditions-based adjustments, including a reduction to our military presence”.865 Troops are due to leave Afghanistan by May 2021.866

545.Baroness Goldie said NATO remained “committed to the principle … of ‘In together, adjust together, out together’.”867 Lord Ahmad said the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government were “clear that the commitments made by the parties are all interrelated, and if one party does not deliver on its side of the engagement, that calls into question whether others will need to do so as well”.868 Any potential NATO withdrawal or reduction of forces would “be taken by NATO Allies and partners … with consideration being given to conditions in the country and progress towards a political settlement”.869

546.We heard that the ongoing presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is essential to the Afghan government’s military strength and negotiating position. Premature withdrawal by the US, likely to be matched by NATO partners, runs contrary to the UK’s objective of securing a durable negotiated settlement.

547.The UK should emphasise to the US and its NATO Allies the importance of their ongoing presence in Afghanistan until a peace deal is reached.

548.The ongoing presence of UK troops in Afghanistan depends on the deployment decisions of the US. We were disappointed by the lack of analysis of the implications of the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan provided by ministers in their evidence. We ask the Government to provide to us its assessment of the US’s policy.

Future security assistance


549.Ms Miller said that if a negotiated settlement was reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban, it was “questionable … whether the resultant government would actually accept foreign security assistance if that entailed having foreign military forces—uniformed forces—of any kind on the ground”. There was a “possibility” of training delivered by civilians.870

550.Dr Manza said that while the outcome of the negotiations was unknown, NATO Allies were planning for a scenario in which they were invited to continue advising and training. NATO had “a plan agreed by Allies on the shelf”.871

551.Ms Miller said that after the US withdraws troops, the security situation would be too uncertain for training and support to continue.872 Mr Dobbins said Western governments would in any case not be prepared to provide assistance at current levels once their troops had left Afghanistan.873

Funding for the ANSF

552.Witnesses warned that security funding should not immediately be withdrawn if a peace deal was reached.874 Lord Ahmad agreed that ongoing investment in Afghanistan’s security institutions would be needed;875 the UK would “certainly continue our commitment to the sustainment of the [ANSF] through to 2024”.876

553.The evidence we received demonstrated the challenges facing the Government on future security assistance to Afghanistan:

We invite the Government to provide us with its assessment of these challenges.

Future official development assistance funding

Declining UK aid budget

554.Mr Bowden said official development assistance (ODA) funding for Afghanistan needed to be “protected … to ensure the provision of services”.877 However, aid was “on, and will continue on, a downward trajectory”.878 He was “very worried” about the impact of the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.879

555.On 25 November 2020 the UK Government announced its intention to cut the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on ODA to 0.5% from 2021.880 We expressed our opposition to this decision in November 2020.881 It is not yet clear how this decision will affect Afghanistan: Lord Ahmad said that ”detailed spending allocations for 2021 will be subject to the upcoming resource allocation round”.882

Willingness to maintain funding if the Taliban joined the government

556.Dr Quie and Mr Hakimi said that “a putative power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban” would “raise questions about aid”.883 Witnesses considered whether international donors would be willing to provide funding.

557.We heard that development actors already provide services in areas outside government control; for example, Afghanaid delivers projects in Taliban-controlled areas,884 and the Taliban accepts community-based education for women, and midwives (see Chapter 3).885

558.Falanx Assynt said if the Taliban was brought into the government, the prospect of “the withdrawal of aid funding” would give the international community some potential leverage.886 Lord Ahmad said the UK’s “conditionality” was “very clear”:887 it had “prioritised … the rule of law, the protection of the rights of women and minorities’ rights, and democratic governance” as “conditions that need to be met to secure future funding”.888

559.If the Taliban became “the predominant actor in the Afghan government”, Dr Felbab-Brown thought this “would … result in donors cutting off economic aid to Afghanistan”. US and European donors might “not be willing to stomach funding a Taliban-dominated government if it significantly reduces political freedoms and protections of human rights and women’s rights”.889

560.Afghanistan remains highly dependent on international aid. Cutting funding to the Afghan state would disrupt the provision of basic services. Cuts to humanitarian relief and development projects would have a disproportionate impact on the poorest and most vulnerable.

561.We reiterate our opposition to the UK Government’s decision not to meet its statutory target to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) from 2021. We accept that the COVID-19 pandemic has put considerable pressure on Government finances and that the UK’s aid budget would have fallen in cash terms as a result of the shrinking of the UK’s GNI. We call on the Government not to renege on the 0.7% commitment from 2021, which would undermine the UK’s standing in the world and negatively affect some of the world’s poorest people, including in Afghanistan. There is not a case for cuts to UK aid to the Afghan people, and Afghanistan’s aid dependence makes it particularly vulnerable to future cuts in ODA provision.

562.The UK and international donors face extraordinarily complex and sensitive problems when considering future aid to Afghanistan if the Taliban is brought into the government:

563.Insecurity and violence are two of the major obstacles to achieving development outcomes in Afghanistan. If the peace talks break down, the security situation would be likely to worsen. While the UK could continue to support the Afghan government, its ability to provide services, and the ability of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials and NGOS to operate in the country, would be significantly undermined.

733 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

734 The Afghan negotiating team includes figures not in the government, hence the term Afghan government-aligned delegation.

735 NPR, ‘Afghan peace talks stalled over rules to refer to when sides reach a deadlock’ (6 October 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

736 ANI, ‘Intra-Afghan talks: Doha delegates say agreement on rules is near’ (13 October 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

737 Susanna George, ‘Afghan peace talks show first signs of progress after months of deadlock’, The Washington Post (2 December 2020):–00d311f13d2d_story.html [accessed 5 January 2021]

738 Q 87

739 Q 4

740 Q 53 (Dr Ayeesha Siddiqa)

741 Q 10 and Q 126

742 Q 2

743 Ibid.

744 Q 69

745 Q 77

746 Al Jazeera, ‘Who are the Afghan women negotiating peace with the Taliban?’ (7 October 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

747 Q 11

748 Q 3 (Shaharzad Akbar), Q 11 (Deborah Lyons) and Q32 (Charles Davy)

749 Q 130

750 Q 92

751 Q 31

752 Q 17

753 Q 3

754 Q 10

755 Q 18, Q 41 (Laurel Miller) and Q 43 (James Dobbins)

756 Q 43 (James Dobbins)

757 Q 43

758 Q 62

759 Q 61 (Erica Gaston)

760 Q 61 (Dr Antonio De Lauri)

761 Written evidence from Professor William Maley and Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi (AFG0004)

762 Asia Times, ‘Afghan peace talks starting to fall apart’ (11 November 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

763 ‘Women concerned over underrepresentation in Afghan talks’ Voice of America News (12 October 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

764 Q 61 (Dr Antonio De Lauri)

765 Q 4

766 Ibid.

767 Ibid.

768 Q 19

769 Q 69

770 Q 69 (Dr Ashley Jackson). Also see written evidence from Professor William Maley and Dr Niamatullah Ibrahimi (AFG004) and Q 4 (Shaharzad Akbar).

771 Q 19

772 Q 4 and Q 126

773 Q 4

774 Written evidence from Falanx Assynt (AFG0005)

775 Q 4

776 Q 41 (Laurel Miller)

777 Q 49 (Husain Haqqani) and Q 59 (Dr Ashley Jackson)

778 Q 41

779 Q 69 (Dr Ashley Jackson)

780 Q 120

781 Q 46 (Laurel Miller)

782 Q 41 (Laurel Miller)

783 Q 69

784 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

785 Q 41 (James Dobbins)

786 Q 4

787 Q 4 (Shaharzad Akbar)

788 Q 52

789 Q 65

790 Q 4

791 Q 69 (Dr Ashley Jackson)

792 Q 87

793 Q 4 (Hameed Hakimi)

794 77 (Dr John Manza)

795 Q 40

796 Q 46

797 Q 40

798 Q 9

799 Q 31

800 Q 40

801 Q 49

802 Q 40

803 Q 10

804 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

805 Q 117

806 Q 122 (Lord Ahmad)

807 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

808 Q 120

809 Q 123 (Lord Ahmad)

810 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

811 Q 123 (Lord Ahmad)

812 Q 123

813 Q 123 (Lord Ahmad)

814 Q 131 (Lord Ahmad) Dr Jackson said that Indonesia saw itself as having “a role in moderating and helping the Taliban to see a different side of Islam”, and had engaged with Taliban members in this regard. Q 67

815 Q 119

816 Q 82

817 Q 42

818 Q 20

819 Q 50

820 Q 42

821 Q 42 (Laurel Miller)

822 Written evidence from the Human Security Centre (AFG0019)

823 Q 42

824 Written evidence from Falanx Assynt (AFG0005) and Q 10 (Deborah Lyons)

825 Q 42 (James Dobbins)

826 Q 31

827 Written evidence from the FCDO (AFG0011)

828 Q 31 (Dr Orzala Nemat)

829 Q 1

830 Q 49

831 Q 4 (Hameed Hakimi) and Q 49 (Husain Haqqani). This would be likely to lead to “very substantial new refugee flows out of Afghanistan”. Written evidence from Professor Maley and Dr Ibrahimi (AFG0004)

832 Q 61

833 Q 40 (Laurel Miller)

834 Ibid.

835 Q 49 (Dr Ayesha Siddiqa)

836 Q 61 (Dr Antonio De Lauri)

837 Q 31 Also see written evidence from Falanx Assynt (AFG005)

838 Q 19

839 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

840 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

841 Q 40

842 Q 61 (Erica Gaston). Ms Gaston and Dr De Lauri said that, to support the talks, international actors should focus on the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militias with which they were associated. Q 61

843 Written evidence from Nicholas Williams (AFG0021)

844 Q 3

845 Q 32 (Dr Orzala Nemat)

846 Q 32

847 Q 3 (Shaharzad Akbar)

848 Q 31

849 3 (Shaharzad Akbar)

850 Q 5 (Shaharzad Akbar)

851 Written evidence from the Human Security Centre (AFG0019)

852 Q 31

853 Written evidence from Amnesty International UK (AFG0023)

854 Q 11

855 Written evidence from Human Rights Watch (AFG0022)

856 Q 122

857 Written evidence from Human Rights Watch (AFG0022)

858 Written evidence from Human Rights Watch (AFG0022) Including “education through secondary school and university, freedom of movement and association, the right to employment and to hold public office (including judgeships), and other rights gained since 2002”.

859 Q 40

860 Q 70

861 Written evidence from Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown (AFG0027)

862 Q 40

863 Q 77 (Dr John Manza), Q 89 (Lord Sedwill) and Q 44 (James Dobbins)

864 Q 89 (Lord Sedwill) Also see Q 44 (James Dobbins)

865 NATO, ‘Statement by the North Atlantic Council on Afghanistan’ (29 February 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

866 CNBC, ‘Acting Pentagon chief announces U.S. military reduction in Iraq and Afghanistan’ (17 November 2020) : [accessed 5 January 2021]

867 Q 126

868 Q 127

869 Q 126 (Lord Ahmad)

870 Q 44 Also see Q 78 (Dr John Manza)

871 Q 76

872 Q 44

873 Ibid.

874 Q 36 (Dr Orzala Nemat) and Q 36 (Charles Davy)

875 Q 128

876 Q 116 (Baroness Goldie)

877 Q 36

878 Q 35

879 Q 34

880 The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, Speech on the Spending Review 2020, 25 November 2020: [accessed 5 January 2021]

881 Letter from Baroness Anelay of St Johns to Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP (25 November 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

882 Letter from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to Baroness Anelay of St Johns (11 December 2020): [accessed 5 January 2021]

883 Written evidence from Dr Marissa Quie and Hameed Hakimi (AFG0024)

884 Q 33 (Charles Davy)

885 Q 70 (Dr Ashley Jackson)

886 Written evidence from Falanx Assynt (AFG005)

887 Q 129

888 Q 122

889 Written evidence from Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown (AFG0027)

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