Peace Process Update: Feb 3
Biden Critical of U.S.-Taliban deal; Afghan Study Group Releases Final Report, Afghan Parliament Forms Committee to Monitor, Participate in Peace Process; NATO Officials Say Troops Might Stay Beyond May 1
The Biden administration is increasingly sounding alarms over the US-Taliban peace agreement signed almost a year ago in Qatar by the Trump administration. Biden believes that the deal is “fundamentally flawed” and has indicated that he will pursue a tougher stance towards the Taliban as his administration began a review of the agreement. National security advisor Jake Sullivan said the administration will take “a hard look at the extent to which the Taliban are in fact complying” with the agreement. The White House, Pentagon, and State Department have signaled that a U.S. troop withdrawal in May is not likely given that the Taliban insurgents are failing to reduce violence and cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that: “Without the Taliban meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan national security forces, and by dint of that, the Afghan people, it’s tough to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement.” President Biden has decided to keep on veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the 2020 peace deal and who is one of only a handful of Trump administration foreign policy officials that have been asked to stay on with the Biden administration.
The Afghanistan Study Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace released its long-awaited report with policy recommendations for the Biden Administration. The report recommends that the Biden Administration should take this unique opportunity at peace to focus the U.S. diplomatic and military missions in Afghanistan on the pursuit of a sustainable peace agreement that protects U.S. national security interests, and the will of the Afghan people. It also highlighted several issues that the U.S. must address in order to achieve a peace agreement including, the significant rise in Taliban violence and targeted assassinations, the need to support democratic institutions and elections, the need to preserve the gains of women, minorities, and civil society, the need to delay an immediate troop withdrawal in favor of a conditions-based withdrawal, and the need for accountability from both the Taliban and the Afghan government throughout the peace process.
“Our long involvement in Afghanistan has resulted in achievements that are in our interest to preserve. Although Afghanistan’s institutions are imperfect, mechanisms have been put in place that allow for social inclusion, representative government, and the consolidation of the rule of law, and these remain the best way in which Afghanistan’s diverse communities can coexist within a stable polity. In the ongoing negotiations, the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban will need to find creative compromises between their different worldviews. It is not within the mandate of the Study Group to judge what these compromises might be, but Afghanistan’s stability depends on it having political institutions that are representative, inclusive—including of women and minorities—and based on a legal system that embodies the aspirations of the Afghan people for justice.”
The report also highlights a general sense of disillusionment among U.S. policymakers about Afghanistan’s government that threatens the peace process. “A key consideration of the Study Group was that while we support the values of the Afghan government and recognize that its collapse could create significant problems for the region and beyond, U.S. decisions about America’s presence in Afghanistan cannot be held hostage to the divisions, ineffectiveness, corruption, and shortsightedness that the Afghan government has too often displayed.”
In Kabul, the Afghan Parliament has formed a committee to monitor and get directly involved in the peace talks. The committee was established in response to strong concerns among MPs and their constituents that the opportunity for peace is slipping away and the government is putting up roadblocks to peace. In the Peace committee’s first hearing this week, Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani addressed the 21 MP committee members, stressing the vital importance of their work to the future of all Afghans and the fate of the republic. Speaker Rahmani said he received a peace proposal that is being circulated amongst all concerned parties. The proposal preserves the constitution and the structure of the republic but calls for replacing the current Ghani administration with an interim government. Rahmani noted the need for an immediate end to Taliban violence and pointed out several issues with the peace proposal that the committee needs to review. The Speaker also welcomed the opportunity to pursue all paths to peace and vowed to ensure that Parliament removes all obstacles and delays reaching an agreement.
The Parliamentary peace committee will immediately begin meeting with the High Council for National Reconciliation, the government body that oversees the Republic’s negotiation team in Doha, as well as civil society groups, regional countries, and NATO member governments. The peace committee members will provide regular briefings to the full Parliament so that MPs can stay informed throughout the process. If, and when, an agreement is reached, the constitution mandates that Parliament holds a vote to ratify the agreement. Many MPs have publicly stated that they will do so only if there’s a sustainable peace that preserves the hard-fought gains of Afghan men and women over the last 20 years. The Ghani administration has publicly opposed the idea of an interim government for several months. Speaking at an Aspen Security Forum event last week, President Ghani indicated that an interim government would lead to bloodshed and would be detrimental to Afghanistan. However, following Speaker Rahmani’s comments this week, a spokesperson for the Ghani administration stated that the government had maintained a flexible stance on peace.
In Doha, though informal talks between the parties continue, official talks between Afghan and Taliban negotiators have stalled. However, the Taliban visited Moscow and Tehran as part of a recent regional tour to discuss the peace process. On Jan 31, Reuters reported that the allied forces fighting with the US in Afghanistan plan to stay there beyond the May deadline envisaged by the insurgent Taliban’s deal with the United States, four senior NATO officials said. “There will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end...Conditions have not been met... And with the new U.S. administration, there will be tweaks in the policy, the sense of hasty withdrawal which was prevalent will be addressed, and we could see a much more calculated exit strategy,” one of the officials told Reuters.