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Provisional peace deal between U.S., Taliban hits hurdle over prisoner release

The U.S. and the Taliban have signed an agreement aimed at withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In exchange, the Taliban committed to not allow terrorists to use the country as a base from which to plan operations. But the deal has already run into a serious snag over the release of Taliban prisoners. Nick Schifrin reports and talks to Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This weekend, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

    In exchange, the Taliban committed to not allow terrorists to use the country as base to plan operations.

    Nick Schifrin reports on how this agreement has already run into a serious snag.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The moment the U.S. hopes was the beginning of the end of the longest war.

    Mullah Baradar was the Taliban's lead negotiator.

  • Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (through translator):

    We are full of hope that everyone will participate in rebuilding the future of Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

  • Mike Pompeo:

    It is time. The opportunity is in front of us. We now have commitments from the Taliban to break with al-Qaida. This is historic.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The agreement calls for the U.S. to withdraw all forces within 14 months, the Taliban to block all kind of from Afghanistan, and the Taliban and the Afghan government to negotiate directly.

    Today, President Trump was emphatic about the withdrawal.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're getting out. We want to get out. We had good meetings with the Taliban. And we are going to be leaving. And we're going to be bringing our soldiers back home.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The agreement also committed the Afghan government to release up to 5,000 prisoners and the Taliban to release 1,000 prisoners.

    But President Ashraf Ghani said that was dead on arrival.

  • President Ashraf Ghani (through translator):

    There is no commitment to release the 5,000 prisoners. This is the legal and absolute right of the people of Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, the Taliban announced it wouldn't negotiate until the government released prisoners and threatened not to continue the reduction in violence.

    Earlier today, I spoke to Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and asked if the Taliban's announcement meant the talks were doomed.

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    Well, we never believed the Taliban were fully committed to the peace process. That's why we asked for a cease-fire up front, so that they can show their commitment to the peace process.

    We are preparing for a full defense of our people. But in the spirit of peace, if the Taliban wish to make a peace deal with the Afghan government, they will have to keep the violence low and reach a cease-fire with us.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The U.S.-Taliban agreement commits both the Taliban and the Afghan government to release prisoners before direct talks can begin.

    But President Ghani said it can't be precondition to talks. Doesn't that announcement go against the U.S.-Taliban deal and threaten the talks themselves?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    What we were told and what is in the agreement — or, rather, the joint statement with the United States, is that the U.S. will facilitate a discussion between the Afghan government and the Taliban, where we could talk about the release of prisoners, among other things.

    But there is no precondition that we must release them before any discussion begins. And I think we are not going to release any prisoners until we see serious commitment for peace from the Taliban.

    This is a leverage we cannot give away or, rather, front-load. What we need to see from the Taliban is a full cease-fire. We also need to see clarity on the relationship with the narcotics trade. We also need to see clarity on their relationship with their sponsors.

    If that is not clarified, what — we will not have the assurance that any deal with the Taliban will lead to peace in Afghanistan.

    So we think that, while we're happy to discuss the release of prisoners, we — it cannot be the only topic. It must be part of a broader discussion on ending the senseless violence in Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You're talking about issues that you will discuss with the Taliban during the formal peace talks.

    Why not release maybe a few prisoners in order to make sure that those formal talks begin as scheduled?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    Again, we have, at their request, sent a team to Doha to discuss all issues. Once again, we're not going to discuss just this one issue alone.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The larger question, do you support the U.S.-Taliban agreement? Do you believe it's a peace deal?

    Or do you — as some Afghan officials have feared, it's more like a withdrawal agreement?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    The fact that the Taliban now have an agreement with the United States, there is no reason left for the Taliban to continue violence in Afghanistan.

    Their legitimacy, their own self-proclaimed legitimacy, is also gone. So we think that that is a good step towards achieving lasting peace in our country. So, we hope that this will lead to peace.

    And we think it's a positive step in that direction. But, on its own, it's not enough to bring peace to Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The agreement's end goal is to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the next 14 months. But some U.S. military officials I talked to talked about a 1,500 to 2,500 troop range to conduct counterterrorism missions.

    Do you believe the U.S. is serious about a full withdrawal? And you support that full withdrawal in the next 14 months?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    Absolutely.

    We have been preparing ourselves for more reliance on our own security forces, and we have been doing that in many ways. In terms of operations, we have managed to create more self-dependency there.

    But what is important to notice is that this condition — or — sorry — this withdrawal is condition-based.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But those conditions are based not on progress between you and the Taliban during peace talks, but the Taliban taking steps to renounce al-Qaida.

    Was that a mistake of the U.S.-Taliban agreement?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    In the agreement, it states that the condition — one of the condition is the progress in the inter-Afghan dialogue.

    So, if we are not making progress, and the Taliban continue their violence, which means Afghanistan will continue to be a breeding ground or an environment, a conducive environment for terrorism, which will be a threat to the United States and other allies, then that condition wouldn't be met, which means the — that troop withdrawal commitment will also be stretched.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And on the negotiating team, the U.S. has objected to some of the people that you have suggested for the negotiating team with the Taliban.

    Is there an agreement among the Afghans and between Afghanistan and the U.S. over who is going to negotiate with the Taliban?

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    We're in ongoing discussions with all the stakeholders in Afghanistan on the — on forming an inclusive team.

    This will include people from the opposition, the Afghan political spectrum here, but also people from other walks of life, such as civil society. The ulama, or scholars, here will have civil — the media, and also victims represented in the negotiating team.

    So, we're working right now on forming an inclusive team that will represent all of Afghans that have — all of those who have been impacted by this war in the last 19 years.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, national security adviser of Afghanistan, thank you very much.

  • Hamdullah Mohib:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you, Nick.

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