Peace Process Update: Jan 23
Biden Administration to Review Afghanistan Policy; No Major Progress in Doha; Afghan Parliament, Government Spar Over Budget and Ministers
On January 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as 46th President of the United States, marking a new era for America –– and possibly Afghanistan. Biden’s new administration has signaled its intent to change U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said he would conduct a review of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, indicating he had not seen the entire agreement, in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In a strong show of commitment to the Afghan people, Blinken responded to questioning from Senator Jeanne Shaheen about the peace process by stating, "I don't believe that any outcome that they might achieve is sustainable without protecting the gains that have been made by women and girls in Afghanistan over the last 20 years." In a separate confirmation hearing, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin said that he wants the war in Afghanistan to end but didn’t commit to ending it quickly. Austin stated that the war needs to end and an agreement should be reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents, but the US doesn’t want Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists again.
In Doha, there has not been any progress at the peace talks, as both sides continue to debate the agenda for future talks. The Afghan government accuses the Taliban of not actively participating and showing interest in the talks, warning that it will not release any more Taliban prisoners since the previous prisoner releases have caused the surge in violence. For the moment, it seems, however, that both the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents and Pakistan are waiting for policy directions from the new Biden administration. A slow pace of talks in Doha has been accompanied by new waves of violence and terror in Afghanistan, with a recent series of targeted assassinations of officials, judges, journalists, and rights activists. Two female Afghan Supreme Court members were viciously murdered in a horrible attack by shooters as they were heading to the workplace in the morning.
In Kabul, amid the rumors of discussions about an interim government by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and several Afghan politicians participating in the peace effort, the US chargé d'affaires, Ross Wilson, tweeted on Jan 13 that the US is 'not advocating' an interim government in Afghanistan. “We have not advocated, and the US is not advocating an interim government. The outcomes of Afghanistan peace negotiations are up to Afghans, and we believe those outcomes should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the Afghan people,” Wilson declared.
Meanwhile, tensions are high between the Afghan government and the Afghan Parliament over the latter’s rejection of the FY21 national budget draft. Parliament has rejected President Ghani’s proposed budget twice in the past few weeks as Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani stated his intent to postpone the Parliament’s winter recess until the budget is passed, even if Parliament has to pass its version of the budget. The showdown over the budget is unfolding amid another standoff after the Parliament rejected several of the President’s ministerial appointees and appointee for central bank governor, and the President responded by ordering the appointees to remain in office and continue fulfilling their duties, despite their no longer having any constitutional authority.
Below are some of the issues in the budget the Parliament has identified and inquired to the Ghani administration about, requesting amendments be made:
Not a balanced budget
Unfair to government workers, does not provide an equal pay scale
Allocates government funds to the provinces in a discriminatory fashion
Lack of transparency on how U.S. and allied donor funds have been spent in 2020 and will be spent in 2021, including for the National Dinner Table Program
It allows the office of the President to continue using codes for emergency government funds to avoid Parliamentary oversight on such things as salaries, homes, and vehicles for political consultants, operating a standalone and recently created procurement department, paying ministry expenses, and purchasing supplies for the security ministries, without their input or approval
It omits many development projects of national importance that are partially funded and underway, including the elimination of the Rural Road Construction program