Peace Process Update: Dec 20
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
On December 2nd, the Afghan and Taliban negotiating teams announced they had reached an agreement about the rules and procedures to govern their peace talks. By December 15th, both sides released a comprehensive list of demands for the peace talks and announced they would take a break from negotiations, but not before agreeing to resume on January 5th. This breakthrough is the first sign of progress after months of a stalemate.
In the new year, the two sides will start to negotiate details of a peace deal that hinges on several thorny issues, including a ceasefire. The Afghan side wants an immediate ceasefire, listing a “permanent and countrywide ceasefire” at the top of their list of demands. The Taliban listed “permanent ceasefire” last on their list of twenty four demands. For their part, the U.S. and NATO allies are in favor of a ceasefire. U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that the two Afghan sides had agreed on a three-page document “codifying rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political road map and a comprehensive ceasefire,” calling it an outstanding achievement.
Khalilzad said this agreement demonstrates that the two opposing sides can agree on difficult issues. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the development, adding that the United States would “work hard with all sides in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence and ceasefire.”
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, violence has reached an all time high. There is fighting between the Taliban and the ANDSF in all but a handful of provinces, targeted assassinations and bombings that kill innocent civilians are a nearly everyday occurance in major cities. In a rare occurrence since the U.S.-Taliban agreement was signed in February, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike against Taliban insurgents in Kandahar Province to protect the ANDSF.
The attacks against Afghanistan’s free press continued on December 10th, in Jalalabad, when a female journalist was brutally murdered on her way to work. Malalai Maiwand, a television and radio presenter for a private media outlet in Jalalabad, was shot by gunmen as she was traveling in her car. The twenty-six year old Maiwand’s death marked the third targeted assassination of a news media personality in just over a month. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, and Taliban Insurgents denied involvement.
In Washington, lawmakers passed the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which 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 would be required before troop numbers drop below 4,000, and again before the numbers drop below 2,000, the bill says.
“The conferees reaffirm that it is in the national security of the United States to deny terrorists safe haven in Afghanistan, protect the United States homeland, uphold the United States partnership with the Government of Afghanistan, and protect the hard-fought gains for the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable populations in Afghanistan,” said the conference report, as House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on a final version of the bill.