After months of challenges, particularly around the release of Taliban prisoners, negotiating teams from both sides, along with high-ranking foreign officials, including US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, have converged on Doha in Qatar for the opening ceremony – a momentous occasion not only for Afghanistan but for all its international partners and stakeholders.
It has been a long and treacherous road, leading to this point, but the juncture now has been welcomed by all – Afghans in particular.
In the past month, much has happened. President Ashraf Ghani called a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to decide on the fate of 400 high-risk Taliban prisoners as their release had been a precondition to the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban in February.
This agreement had been the first concrete step towards the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.
In the weeks that followed the Loya Jirga, prisoners were released – except for six that were transferred to Qatar.
This was seen as the last stumbling block in the way of talks and after Thursday’s sudden move to fly the prisoners to Doha, announcements were made by the US, the Afghan government, the Qatar government and the Taliban that talks would start Saturday.
With that, all parties to the talks immediately headed for Doha – on the 19th anniversary of the deadly 9/11 attacks in the US.
Since then, Afghanistan has been at war – with more than 100,000 civilians having been killed.
Here is a chronology of Afghanistan’s history over the past 19 years.
Septenber 11, 2001 – US involvement in Afghanistan is triggered by the twin suicide attacks on the United States plotted in Afghanistan by al Qaeda militant leader Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who was there under Taliban protection.
October 7, 2001 – US forces begin air campaign with strikes on Taliban al Qaeda forces. Small numbers of US special forces and CIA agents soon slip into Afghanistan to help direct the bombing campaign and organise Afghan opposition forces.
November 13, 2001 – US-backed Northern Alliance forces enter Kabul as the Taliban withdraw south. Within a month, Taliban leaders have fled from southern Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan.
December 2001 – US forces bomb the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan where bin Laden is hiding, but he slips over the border into Pakistan and disappears.
December 22, 2001 – Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun opponent of the Taliban, is sworn in as interim leader.
May 2, 2003 – US officials declare an end to major combat operations in Afghanistan.
President George W. Bush turns the US focus to preparing for the invasion of Iraq. This allows the Taliban to gradually return, at first in the south and east.
February 17, 2009 – Barack Obama, in his first major military decision as president, orders 17,000 more combat troops to Afghanistan to tackle an intensifying insurgency. The 17,000 reinforce 38,000 US troops and 32,000 from some 40 NATO allies and other nations already in Afghanistan.
August 20, 2009 – Second Afghan presidential election. Karzai retains power after a dispute with his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, fuelled by allegations of major election fraud.
May 1, 2011 – Bin Laden is killed in a raid by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
2011 – The number of US forces in Afghanistan peaks at about 100,000 as part of a surge that involves intensified CIA drone attacks on Taliban and other militants in Pakistan.
December 2011 – US officials say US diplomats have held about half a dozen secret meetings with Afghan Taliban contacts over 10 months, mostly in Germany and Qatar.
December 28, 2014 – The US combat mission is officially concluded after the withdrawal of most combat troops and a transition to an “Afghan-led” war. Nearly 10,000 US troops remain, though, with a focus on training Afghan forces and counter-terrorism.
August 21, 2017 – Eight months after being sworn in, US President Donald Trump announces his administration’s new strategy on Afghanistan following a “comprehensive review”. He says the US “must seek an honorable and enduring outcome” to the longest war in American history. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over.”
September 4, 2018 – Afghan-born US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is appointed US special representative to seek negotiations with the Taliban.
October 12, 2018 – Khalilzad is reported to have met Taliban representatives in Doha, where they have set up their political office. There are said to already have been earlier meetings, including US State Department officials meeting insurgent leaders earlier in July to have “talks about talks”.
February 29, 2020 – After months of on-off talks, the United States signs a troop withdrawal agreement in Doha with the Taliban. The deal includes a 14-month timeline for the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan as well as guarantees from the Taliban that it will prevent militant groups including al-Qaeda from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
April 9, 2020 – After initially resisting releasing prisoners demanded by the Taliban on security grounds, the Afghan government releases around 100 of the 5,000 demanded by the insurgent group. Over the following months it continues to release prisoners, but the process stalls at the final 400, who are accused of some of Afghanistan’s greatest crimes.
August 9, 2020 – President Ashraf Ghani agrees to release the final 400 prisoners after consulting with the Loya Jirga, paving the way to peace negotiations with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha.