Peace Process Update: Jan 12
U.S. Troop Drawdown Continues Despite Law Barring it; Ghani shuns Khalilzad Amid Discussions of an Interim Government; No Real Progress on the Second Round of Peace Talks
Reuters reported that the Pentagon is continuing to draw down to 2500 troops in Afghanistan despite a new defense law that prohibits further troop cuts unless the Department of Defense provides Congress with a detailed assessment of the risks and impacts.
Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on January 1 that included provisions to block a rapid drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan. The NDAA measure allows Congress to withhold funding for further troop cuts unless the Pentagon, State Department, and Director of National Intelligence assess how a drawdown could impact U.S. national security, among other criteria. The assessment is required before troop numbers drop below 4,000 and again before the numbers drop below 2,000, the bill says.
Amid the start of the new phase of peace talks in Doha, U.S. Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has returned to the region, saying he expects the warring sides to achieve concrete progress in the intra-Afghan talks. In Kabul, Khalilzad met with high-profile political figures to discuss the establishment of an interim government, based on reports from several Afghan news outlets. Reports also claimed that President Ghani wanted no part in discussions about an interim government, and refused to meet with Khalilzad. Speaking in an interview with CNN on Jan 11, President Ghani, who was joined by First Lady Rula Ghani, said that his primary goal is to hand power to his elected successor and through the will of the people. Ghani ostensibly responded to the rumors about an interim government as part of the peace efforts.
Meanwhile, no tangible progress has been made since the start of the second round of intra-Afghan talks. Negotiating teams from the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents held a preparatory meeting on Jan 6, but there have been no substantive updates since then.