Indeed, the whole negotiating process empowered the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate in ways the jihadis never could have imagined in 2001. The Taliban continues to insist that the Afghan government is America’s “puppet”—and the State Department has validated this talking point. When the Taliban demanded in late 2018 that the Afghan government, America’s putative ally, be excluded from the talks, Khalilzad and Pompeo quickly acquiesced. Therefore, the resulting Doha accord is a bilateral one. What’s worse, it doesn’t include a single tangible benefit for America’s Afghan partners, the same forces that have sacrificed more blood to contain the jihadis than anyone.
However, the Taliban did extract concessions that bolster its chances of success. The Taliban wouldn’t agree to a ceasefire—something even Khalilzad concedes is necessary for real peace. A ceasefire will merely be one item on the table if the Taliban ever actually sits down with the Afghan government. In the meantime, the State Department agreed to facilitate the release of up to 5,000 Taliban fighters held by the Afghan government in exchange for 1,000 detainees imprisoned in the Taliban’s detention system. Naturally, the Afghan government is resisting this uneven exchange, which merely gives the Taliban more personnel to wage jihad before it has engaged in even one minute of “intra-Afghan talks.”
If the Obama administration had agreed to this 5-to-1 swap in favor of the Taliban, you can be sure Trump would have taken to Twitter to criticize it.