Peace Process Update: Nov 13
Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Joe Biden Becomes President Elect, Afghan Government Hopeful the New Administration Reviews Peace Process; Taliban Insurgents Emphasize the Significance of February Deal
On Saturday, November 7th former Vice President Joe Biden became the President Elect. The announcement came after nearly five days of uncertainty as the vote-counting process was delayed due to a surge in mail-in ballots. Biden passed the winning threshold of 270 Electoral College votes by gaining the state of Pennsylvania. Trump has refused to concede, questioned the legitimacy of the election, and filed a series of legal challenges on ballot counting.
Both Trump and Biden have spoken against the ‘endless wars’ and promised to end them. President Trump has called for the hasty withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. President-elect Biden is seen to take a more responsible approach towards the pullout and even leave behind a small number of troops in the country to deal with al-Qaeda and ISIS. The Afghan President was among many other world leaders and US allies who congratulated President-elect Biden on his victory. At the same time, President Trump’s shakeup in the Pentagon indicates that there will be implications for Afghanistan. The President’s decision to fire his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and other top Pentagon officials was in part due to disagreements over the Afghanistan troop withdrawal plan. GIRoA remains optimistic that the new Biden US administration will re-examine the peace process and take a tougher stance against the Taliban insurgents. GIRoA blames the Taliban insurgents for an increase in violence, stalling negotiations at the Doha peace talks, and for not agreeing to a permanent ceasefire. For their part, the Taliban insurgents have sought to assure the Biden Administration that the US-Taliban deal should remain in place, calling it an ‘excellent document’ to end the war in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration says the US military presence in Afghanistan has been reduced to 4,500. Ambassador Khalilzad returned to Doha to press a reduction in violence and accelerate ongoing negotiations. Khalilzad said he was returning to Doha disappointed since violent attacks have not decreased, despite the commitments to do so, echoing the sentiment that the opportunity to achieve a political settlement will not remain open forever. Two months have passed since the start of intra-Afghan talks in Doha, but the two sides have yet to make progress over essential procedural matters.
In Afghanistan the carnage continues to take the lives of innocent people. On November 2nd, in an appalling escalation of violence, gunmen attacked Kabul University – Afghanistan’s oldest and largest educational institution – killing at least 22 students and seriously injuring 27 other people. ISIS has claimed responsibility; the Taliban denied involvement, but the Afghan government blamed the Taliban insurgents for the assault. On Saturday, November 7th, a bomb attached to the vehicle of former TOLO TV anchor Yama Siavash exploded early morning, killing the famous journalist and two other civilians. Another journalist’s car, Radio Azadi’s Ilias Daee, was targeted by an IED on November 12th in Helmand province, murdering the reporter and wounding two others, including his brother. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Kabul has seen a surge of targeted killings in recent weeks by unnamed attackers, creating an environment of ever-increasing fear and anxiety. According to the NY Times data, October has been the deadliest month for civilians in Afghanistan since Sep. 2019; more than 212 people have lost their lives.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Taliban insurgents are actively supporting al-Qaeda. The Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) announced that Mohammad Hanif, one of the leaders of the al-Qaeda network for the Indian subcontinent, has been killed in Farah province. NDS said that the al-Qaeda leader had ‘close’ ties with the Taliban in the Indian subcontinent and taught the Taliban fighters how to plant explosives, make car bombs and make homemade mines. Last month, the NDS announced that Abu Mohsen al-Masri, the senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent and the second-in-command of the network, had been killed by Afghan special security forces in Ghazni province.