Peace Process Update: April 2
Parliament Expresses Optimism for Turkey Peace Conference; Moscow Meetings Lead to Calls for Immediate Ceasefire, Powersharing Talks; President Biden Signals May 1 Deadline Delay
At the Moscow peace meetings, aimed at jump-starting the Afghan peace process, four countries called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to curb violence and start power-sharing discussions immediately. The U.S., Russia, China, and Pakistan expressed their opposition to the return of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, adding that any peace agreement must protect the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities. The summit took place ahead of a significant U.S.-backed, UN-moderated peace conference in Turkey, expected to begin this month.
In his address to a session of Afghan Parliament after returning from the Moscow peace meetings, Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani called the summit an important stepping stone that could accelerate the Afghan peace process, though he expressed concerns about the lack of female participation and the lack of representation for the country’s majority population under the age of 30. Speaker Rahmani announced his strong support for the upcoming Istanbul Peace Summit in Turkey, calling it a crucial, constructive, and timely step in the peace process. Speaker Rahmani also mentioned that he wants the Afghan government peace negotiating team to attend the conference with a specific agenda and a common voice to make the most out of the opportunity and help the country reach a durable political settlement.
On his first visit to Afghanistan as the Pentagon Chief, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. wants to see “a responsible end” to the Afghan war, indicating that a high level of violence should decrease in order for diplomacy to succeed. In his unannounced trip to the country, as part of the latest efforts by the U.S. and international powers to end the 20-year war, Secretary Austin met with President Ghani and U.S. military and diplomatic leaders. “There’s always going to be concerns about things one way or the other, but I think there’s a lot of energy focused on, you know, doing what’s necessary to bring about a responsible end, a negotiated settlement to the war,” Austin declared. In a recent interview with ABC News, President Biden said that meeting the May 1 deadline to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan was “tough,” suggesting that he is "in the process of making that decision now as to when they'll leave." However, President Biden also said that he expects American troops to be out of the country within a year. In his first news conference as commander in chief last week, Biden said that he “couldn’t picture” troops staying in Afghanistan by next year.
Amid signals by President Biden that he might delay the May 1 deadline, some officials in his administration are using an intelligence assessment to persuade him to continue the military mission in Afghanistan. The classified assessment reported by the New York Times predicts that if the U.S. troops leave Afghanistan before a power-sharing agreement is reached between the warring sides, the Taliban could take over the country within two or three years after the withdrawal of foreign troops. That could mean that Al Qaeda might be enabled to regain its strength within the country, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
On the heels of President Biden’s statements, the Taliban initiated a series of attacks against the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces in dozens of Districts throughout the country. In the last week, there were 84 Taliban attacks in 26 Provinces and 56 districts, including one day that saw 19 attacks in 13 Provinces and 17 districts. The Taliban also continued their assassination campaign against young leaders in civil society, the media, and the security forces.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that President Ashraf Ghani will be responding to Secretary Blinken’s draft peace agreement with a counteroffer that rejects the premise of a power-sharing government with the Taliban, and instead proposes an election process that includes the Taliban. At the Heart of Asia summit, a conference held this week in Tajikistan aimed at promoting peace and security in Afghanistan, President Ghani talked about his peace plan and promised that he will step aside after an election was held.