Peace Process Update: Feb 15
US and Afghan Officials Slam Taliban for Violence, Stalled Talks in Doha; Taliban Warns NATO of Prolonged Conflict; Reformers in Afghan Parliament Share their Vision for Peace; Afghans Take to the Streets in Support of Parliament, Equality and Transparency in the Government Budget
The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, criticized the Taliban insurgents for avoiding the talks in Doha, arguing that their “hard stance” is not helping the situation and that the Taliban’s absence at the negotiation table has stalled the peace talks for over three weeks. General Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the U.S. Central Command commander, said that the level of violence remains too high in Afghanistan and that he’s concerned about the actions the Taliban have taken thus far. “The Taliban continue to resort to extreme violence and targeted killings across the country and frequent attacks on the Afghan forces. While they have mostly avoided attacks on US and coalition units, the level of violence is just simply too high, and so that is an action that we look at,” declared McKenzie. In a recent interview with CBS, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also said that the U.S. forces will not leave Afghanistan by May and that he supports the Biden administration’s decision to review the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. “I think we’re not going to leave in May. We’re going to leave when the conditions are right. The Taliban have been cheating. They haven’t been complying. And so, I like what Secretary Blinken and the Biden administration is doing,” Graham emphasized.
Similarly, German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass said that German troops in Afghanistan might stay longer than their planned departure date of March, arguing that the Afghan peace process is not going as planned. In the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting next week, the alliance will meet to discuss the future of its mission in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance members must decide "together" on the future of their mission in Afghanistan, indicating that he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden will coordinate more closely with its NATO allies. "If we decide to leave, we risk to jeopardize the peace process, we risk to lose the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years. If we decide to stay, we risk continuing to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops," Stoltenberg maintained. On February 13th, the Taliban warned the alliance against an extension of its military presence, reminding NATO that it “will be held liable for it just like” the last 20 years. "Our message to the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting is that the continuation of occupation and war is neither in your interest nor in the interest of your and our people," the insurgent group declared in a statement.
Having left the negotiation table in Doha, a Taliban delegation visited Turkmenistan as part of their recent regional tour to discuss the peace process. Experts believe that uncertainty over the Biden administration’s stance on the U.S.-Taliban agreement, the unclear fate of the remaining Taliban prisoners, and the non-removal of the insurgent group’s name from the UN blacklist are among the key reasons why the Taliban have stalled the talks. Violence, however, continues to surge in Afghanistan, with recent blasts and clashes increasingly targeting civilians. A string of near-daily bombings and targeted assassinations continue to take the lives of government officials, journalists, and activists.
Meanwhile, three reform-minded leaders of the Afghan Parliament published an article in Newsweek titled Lasting Peace in Afghanistan Must be Afghan Led, emphasizing the gains Afghan society, women and youth have made over the past twenty years, the need for Afghan leaders to take responsibility for the peace process, the crucial role of the Afghan Parliament, and the U.S. to achieve sustainable and lasting peace. Recognizing the intra-Afghan talks as the best opportunity to end the 40-year war in the country, the authors – Haji Ajmal Rahmani, Mir Haidar Afzaly, and Naheed Farid – argue that Afghanistan is ready to make any sacrifices to secure peace and stability in the country. The reform leaders maintain that the time has come to make real peace with the Taliban and find a meaningful way to integrate the Taliban into the Afghan government and society. However, for that to happen, the three MPs assert the Taliban must be willing to adhere to a ceasefire and agree to preserve the gains of the last 20 years in Afghanistan. “There must be an unconditional ceasefire. The level of violence in our country is devastating, and cannot continue. The rights of women and girls and their role in society is non-negotiable. As are equal rights for all ethnic groups, universal education and healthcare, a free press, sports, entertainment, political parties, academic, social and cultural organizations and the existence of an Islamic Republic with a legislative, judicial and executive branch.”
On the heels of the MPs piece in Newsweek, which called on Afghans to take ownership of their internal politics and democratic system, tens of thousands of Afghans took to the streets in an unprecedented display of democracy, free speech, and show of solidarity with Afghanistan’s Parliament. Women and men, government employees, teachers, tribal elders, and residents from all ethnicities and provinces far and wide, including Badghis, Ghor, Paktia, Kabul, Parwan, Baghlan, Khost, Helmand, Kapisa, Sar-e-Pol, and Badakshan, took to the streets and voiced their strong support for Parliament’s fight to demand equality, transparency, and accountability in the government’s proposed budget.