Peace Process Update: Jan 5
Peace Talks Resume as Killing of Civilians Continues; Pompeo Praises Peace Initiative, Acting SecDef and Joint Chiefs Chairman Visit Afghanistan Separately
Negotiating teams from the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents are due to resume peace talks in Qatar today after a three-week break. The negotiations are expected to cover fundamental issues of peace such as a ceasefire and power-sharing after the two sides made progress on procedural rules in December. President Ghani attempted to stall the talks and proposed moving the venue from Qatar to Afghanistan, in Kandahar Province, but the proposal was rejected by negotiators from both sides.
Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed President Trump’s Afghan peace initiative, calling it a remarkable development. “Every administration since Bush 43 [President George W. Bush] wanted to draw down U.S. troops and forge peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. We did it. Don't just take my word for it,” declared Pompeo.
On December 22nd, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan to meet top Afghan leaders to discuss security issues and the status of the peace process. Secretary Miller met with President Ghani at the Presidential Palace “to discuss the ongoing US military support to the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces amidst a historic opportunity to achieve peace in the country,” according to a Pentagon statement. Secretary Miller also met with Gen Scott Miller, the Commander of U.S. troops and the NATO-led coalition, to gain an assessment of the security situation and the progress of the U.S. troop drawdown. Miller’s trip to Kabul is the second visit by senior defense officials recently. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, visited days earlier to meet with Afghan and U.S. military leaders to discuss growing concerns about escalating Taliban attacks against the ANDSF.
Meanwhile, a terror campaign and constant high-levels of violence continue to plague the Afghan people, over-shadowing the new phase of peace talks. Targeted killings of civil servants, journalists, and women's rights activists have spiked in recent months with seemingly no end in sight. Rahmatullah Nikzad, a freelance photographer who worked for the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, was assassinated in Ghazni Province on Dec. 21, as was Freshta Kohistani, a women's rights who was gunned down, alongside her brother, on Dec. 24 near her home in Kapisa Province. On Jan. 1, in Ghor Province, another journalist and human rights activist, Bismillah Adil, was shot dead by unknown armed men near Firoz Koh city. Adil’s assassination marked the fifth journalist’s death in just two months. No group has claimed responsibility for these attacks, though the Afghan government and U.S. military attributes the violence to the Taliban. Colonel Sonny Leggett, the US military Spokesman in Afghanistan, explicitly blamed the Taliban insurgents for the recent killings and made it clear that for the peace talks to succeed, the violence must stop. “The Taliban's campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killing of government officials, civil society leaders and journalists must also cease for peace to succeed," said Leggett.