Peace Process Update: Mar 2
Peace Talks Resume; Ambassador Khalilzad Visits Kabul with Peace Plan; Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Reed, NATO Officials, Signal Troops Will Stay Beyond May; Speaker Rahmani Leads a Delegation to Tajikistan
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents resumed in Doha after more than a month-long delay, though the two sides are still negotiating details of an agenda to move forward with the talks. U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad returned to the region to meet with political leaders in Kabul before heading back to Doha. The restart of negotiations in Doha comes amid an increase in shuttle diplomacy throughout the region, including visits by the U.S. Central Command Commander General Kenneth F McKenzie, Russian Envoy Zamir Kabulov, Qatari Envoy Mutlaq Bin Majed Al Qahtani, and Afghanistan envoy Umar Daudzai to meet with Pakistani officials, and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The discussions with Pakistan were focused on a reduction in Taliban violence and a future permanent ceasefire. All sides see Pakistan’s role in getting the Taliban back to the negotiating table and influencing them to reduce violence, as a vital component to achieving peace.
As part of the Parliament's ongoing peace efforts, Speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani led a delegation of MP’s to Tajikistan to meet with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Foreign Minister Sirodjidin Muhriddin, and other officials to discuss the peace process and issues of mutual concern including Afghan refugees and trade. Recognizing Tajikistan's security concerns along its Afghan borders, Rahmani asserted that Afghanistan might face civil war and the situation will get even worse if there is not a responsible withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. “Ending violence in Afghanistan requires regional cooperation. Peace will not be ensured if Afghanistan’s neighbors do not directly engage in the peace process,” Speaker Rahmani said.
In his remarks at the Munich Security Conference, President Biden maintained that he supports the Afghan peace process to bring an end to America’s longest war while assuring that the US will not let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists again. “My administration strongly supports the diplomatic process that’s underway and to bring an end to this war that is closing out 20 years. We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again provides a base for terrorist attacks against the United States and our partners and our interests,” President Biden said.
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Jack Reed, said that he expects US troop’s presence in Afghanistan to be somewhat extended beyond May, though the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban calls for a full American withdrawal in May. “ In the short run … I would expect some extension. Even operationally, I think the military would make the case they need more time, even if they're coming out,” Senator Reed mentioned.
In his first news conference as Pentagon Chief, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. is committed to doing a “thoughtful and deliberate” review of its Afghan strategy. Secretary Austin suggested that progress towards peace and an end to the American presence in Afghanistan depend on the Taliban reducing attacks since the level of violence is soaring. “All of us are mindful of the time that’s available, but we’re really focused on making sure the negotiation process takes place as it should. Hopefully,
the parties will abide by commitments they made at the outset of the negotiations,” Austin declared.
Meanwhile in Brussels, following a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers, the alliance affirmed that no decision had been made on a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, indicating that it plans to remain until conditions on the ground allow for a long-lasting political settlement to the peace process. For their part, the Taliban published an open letter just a day before the NATO meeting calling on the U.S. to honor the Doha agreement regarding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, arguing that it had committed to its side of the deal. “Now that a year has passed since the signing of the Doha agreement, we urge the American side to remain committed to the full implementation of this accord,” read the letter.