Ongoing peace talks may show signs of a close to the nearly 18-year conflict with the Taliban, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may not meet Taliban requests to sign a bill that legitimizes the terrorist group.
As reported exclusively by TIME magazine, Pompeo reportedly signaled an initial unwillingness to sign the deal, the result of nine rounds of discussions between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Qatar. The deal may discredit the U.S. backed government in Afghanistan and reportedly still does not contain several crucial preconditions to U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Taliban requested Pompeo sign the peace agreement with the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the name of the Taliban government established in 1996 and overthrown by U.S. forces near the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Signing the document may appear to discredit the U.S. backed Afghan government in Kabul, instead favoring the Taliban one.
Though Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s president in Kabul, has issued tentative public support to a peace deal, TIME has reported sources close to Ghani have heard him and Khalilzad arguing over the deliberations.
Among other missing pieces to the deal, the U.S. is apparently looking for terms to retain some counterterrorism forces to continue searching out al Qaeda. The future of the U.S. backed government established in Kabul is also uncertain, as is the end to fighting in Afghanistan altogether.
In a statement offered to TIME by Pompeo’s spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, Pompeo said he may still sign an agreement if it is approved by all parties and by President Donald Trump.
With a signature to the current deal, around 5,400 U.S. troops may return from Afghanistan within 135 days, cutting a third of U.S. forces from the region. The majority of U.S. forces would later be withdrawn by November of 2020.
As an alternative to Pompeo approving the deal, Khalilzad may still sign the deal on behalf of the U.S.
Another option could include U.S. and Taliban officials issuing a joint statement with the backing approval of the Kabul government, and the governments of Japan, China and Russia.
Either option might set the process of troop withdrawals in motion, but the Taliban would still need to open diplomatic channels with the Kabul government, discontinue attacks on U.S. forces and keep out foreign militants joining in the fighting.
Concerns still exist among U.S. military and intelligence officers as to how precipitously the U.S. will withdraw its forces. Upcoming 2020 elections may influence Trump to accelerate the drawn downs.
In a statement issued Tuesday by the Atlantic Council, several former U.S. government officials warned the Taliban may not stay faithful to peace terms after U.S. forces are gone.
“The Taliban have made no clear statements about the conditions they would accept for a peaceful settlement with their fellow Afghans, nor do they have a track record of working with other political forces,” the statement reads.
The council also warned of Afghanistan’s history with power vacuums. Following the departure of Russian forces that fought in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, a power struggle began between a Soviet backed Afghan government and various other warring factions, which saw the Taliban consolidate power almost 8 years later.
The Atlantic council warned that ISIS interests may turn towards an Afghan power vacuum, forcing the Taliban to retain ties with al Qaeda in order to maintain their control.