Peace Process Update: Mar 17
The Biden Administration Proposes Participatory Government with The Taliban; Secretary Blinken’s Letter to President Ghani Pushes for UN-Led Peace Conference
During his trip to Afghanistan, the U.S. Special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad proposed the idea of creating an interim government through a UN-brokered international conference between the Afghan and Taliban leaders. First reported by Afghanistan’s TOLO News and later confirmed by the Western Media, Khalilzad handed over an eight-page draft peace agreement to several Afghan leaders for review along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s three-page letter to President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, reflecting the frustration of the Biden administration over escalating violence and a stalled peace process. The draft peace agreement “sets forth principles for governance, security, and rule of law, and presents options for power-sharing that could help the two sides reach a political settlement that ends the war.”
The proposal outlines the formation of a “transitional peace government,” which would include separate and coequal branches of power, paving the way for the writing of a new constitution and elections immediately afterward. It lays out the terms of a ceasefire and its enforcement, guarantees elections, calls for the protection of women’s rights, includes guaranteed rights for religious and ethnic minorities, and protects a free press. As soon as a peace agreement is signed, both sides would need to stop fighting within hours, the proposal maintains.
There are two proposed scenarios for the existing Afghan Parliament under an interim government. The first would preserve the bicameral legislature and expand it to include membership for the Taliban. The second option, one of the most concerning elements of the proposal, would dissolve the National Assembly, transferring its authority to the executive branch.
There are two proposed options for the executive branch: a similar system that exists today with a President and Vice Presidents, or a new option to have a President and Prime Minister. The draft agreement states that Afghanistan’s neighbors will not interfere in the country, Afghanistan will not let its soil be used to launch terrorist attacks against its neighbors and calls on the Taliban to remove all of its political and military structures from neighboring countries.
The proposal calls for a High Council for Islamic Jurisprudence to be formed and provide advice to an independent judiciary to settle conflicts over the interpretation of Islamic law. The proposal also states that the government and the Taliban will each introduce seven members to the High Council, reserving one member to be named by the interim President.
Accompanying the proposal is a blunt letter from Secretary Blinken, declaring that the U.S. wants to see progress in the peace negotiations, and calls on Afghan political leaders to seriously consider the draft peace proposal for an interim government. Addressing the fact that President Ghani has been a strong opponent of the idea of an interim government, and venting frustration over the perceived lack of urgency from the Afghan negotiators, Secretary Blinken said he wants all parties involved to focus on getting a peace agreement signed, “I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding collective work.” Secretary Blinken mentioned convening a near-term high-level conference led by the UN in Turkey between the Taliban and the Afghan government which will include the U.S, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India. “It is my belief that these countries share an abiding common interest in a stable Afghanistan and must work together if we are to succeed,” he said. The U.S.-backed peace conference in Turkey is expected to happen next month, and the Afghan government has announced that it will attend.
Secretary Blinken’s letter recommends “a revised proposal for a 90-day Reduction in Violence, which is intended to prevent a Spring Offensive by the Taliban,” followed by a permanent ceasefire defined in the draft peace proposal. “I must also make clear to you, Mr. President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, the United States has not ruled out any option,” Secretary Blinken asserted, including “the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1st.” In reaction to Sec. Blinken’s letter, Ghani’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh said that the President has received the letter and was unimpressed by its contents, saying that “We are neither concerned about the letter nor has it changed our position.” In his speech to lawmakers at the opening session of the Afghan Parliament, President Ghani said that he is ready to discuss fresh elections with the Taliban, insisting that the only way to form a new government is through elections. For their part, the Taliban has confirmed receiving the letter after meeting with Ambassador Khalilzad in Doha, indicating they are reviewing the proposal and will soon take a position.
Meanwhile, Russia intends to hold a peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on March 18 and has invited the regional players, the Afghan government, official leaders from Parliament, and various politicians to accelerate the peace process. Both the Afghan government and the Taliban said that they are going to attend the conference. Following Secretary Blinken’s letter, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah held a series of meetings with the Parliament, and various Afghan politicians to consult on the peace process and discuss the draft peace proposal.