Negotiating with the Taliban government that is forming in Afghanistan


“Should U.S. and allies seek to influence Taliban government in formation through negotiating agreements?,” The Trenchant Observer, August 25, 2021.

The terrorist attack at the entrance to he airport will complicate both the continued evacuation of Americans and allies and Afghans, ant the formation of a new government led by the Taliban.

First indications are that the attack may have been carried out by the ISIS-K group, the Afghan chapter of the Islamic State, which the Taliban are reportedly strongly opposed to. But another possibility is that it was carried out by a dissident faction of the Taliban, possibly as part of a power struggle among different factions within the Taliban.

Worth noting carefully was the statement from Doha by the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, that there was no proof Osama Bin Laden had been behind the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. The statement suggests that the space between al Qaeda and the Taliban is not as great as the latter would like us to believe.


Rachel Pannett, “Taliban spokesman says ‘no proof’ bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 attacks, MSN, August 26, 2021 (10:00 a.m ET).

As competing factions may be vying for control of the leadership of the Taliban, the U.S. and its allies should explore the possibilities of entering cooperative agreements with the Taliban which might reinforce the more forward-looking and cooperative elements of the group which have been making promises not to engage in reprisals and to respect certain basic rights. These promises always come with the caveat of “in accordance with sharia or Islamic Law.

We know that the Taliban have an extreme interpretation of what the sharia requires and permits. Even if the Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar may have been exposed to life in a modern if conservative Islamic country, their foot soldiers in Afghanistan have not had that experience.

There exist strong reasons to doubt whether any promises by the Taliban, made to facilitate humanitarian aid flows, and access to other financial assistance and advantages, can be made to stick among the rank and file members of the organization. Is there enough flexibility in the ideology of the Taliban, for which the foot soldiers have fought–many for their entire lives, to permit women to work or go to school or leave their homes unaccompanied by a male relative?

Only time will tell. The first telltale clues will be seen in the actions of the Taliban outside of Kabul.

These are facts allied governments should keep clearly in mind as they negotiate with the Taliban leadership.

The Trenchant Observer



The Trenchant Observer is an international lawyer with a historian’s eye.  A former Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, where he received the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law (S.J.D.), he is also a summa cum laude graduate of Stanford University, where as an undergraduate he received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the Best Senior Honors Thesis in History.

The Trenchant Observer has been following Afghanistan closely since 2005, when he worked in Kabul as the Team Leader of group of six civilian lawyers charged with advising the government on modernizing its criminal justice process to better meet international human rights standards.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.