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President Biden's Decision To Withdraw From Afghanistan May Have Derailed Peace Talks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To the latest now on peace talks for Afghanistan. There was supposed to be a high-level conference to reenergize those talks set for this weekend in Turkey. But the Taliban pulled out after President Biden announced the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by September 11. Now, the U.S. and Turkey say the peace talks are on hold. NPR's Diaa Hadid's on the line. She covers Afghanistan from her base in neighboring Pakistan.

Hey, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So is it fair to say that Biden's announcement has appeared to have derailed the Afghan peace process? Where do things stand?

HADID: Yeah. I mean, to be fair, these peace talks, which began in September between the Afghan government and the Taliban, was sputtering from the start. And when the Biden administration came to power, American diplomats began arranging this conference in Istanbul as a way of speeding up and reenergizing those talks. But as you noted, everything seems to be thrown into disarray after President Biden announced this unconditional withdrawal of American forces by September 11.

And here's where it's a bit tricky. The Taliban are actually angry at President Biden's administration because they were promised that American and foreign forces would leave by May 1. In their eyes, this is a delay. And so they're refusing to attend the Istanbul conference. And an Afghan peace negotiator tells me that they're also pausing other talks they were meant to be holding with the Afghan government.

KELLY: But I'm confused because the Taliban have wanted the U.S. and other foreign troops to get out of Afghanistan. Now they are getting out of Afghanistan, even if it's a few months late. Why would they now walk away from the talks?

HADID: It's the very idea of an unconditional withdrawal that seems to be the rub. Some analysts say it removes America's chief leverage over the Taliban, which is their military might. All in all, what this means, big picture, is that the conflict is probably going to escalate after foreign forces leave. I spoke to Scott Worden about this. He is the director of the Afghanistan Project at the United States Institute of Peace.

SCOTT WORDEN: Well, unfortunately, I think both sides now have an incentive to test their military strength against each other in the absence of U.S. troops. The Taliban probably think they will be able to either gain more territory or at least get a greater share of power in Kabul, but the Afghan government will not be willing to give that up easily.

KELLY: So that's one view on where Afghanistan may be headed. What are you hearing from Afghans themselves as you work the phones?

HADID: Right. Well, in Kabul, at least, there's despair. The Taliban control much of the countryside in Afghanistan, and they're on the edge of the capital, Kabul. So I spoke to Muska Dastageer. She's a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan. And she reminds me that almost all Afghans, more than 30 million of them, have known nothing but war.

MUSKA DASTAGEER: The Americans are not the only ones beset by war weariness. No one has endured more than Afghans. And it's my hope that eventually the Taliban and the government will relent to some kind of compromise, but this is going to take time. The costs of perpetuating the war have to exceed the gains for Taliban.

HADID: And so what she hopes at this point is that the Biden administration will find some incentives or rewards to get the Taliban to pursue peace rather than conflict.

KELLY: Thank you, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.