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Blinken delivers a speech at the State Department on the priorities of the Biden administration.

An Introspective Outlook Of The U.S Letter To Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ghani and Chairman Abdulla Abdulla addressing the Afghan peace process highlights its complexity and challenges. It has come at a crucial time in the process, as it states and establishes the proposals of the new American Administration under President Joe Biden. This introspective outlook helps dissect Blinken’s letter and its recommendations for policy and the need for diplomatic efforts in the Afghan peace process.

Blinken’s letter highlights the importance of diplomatic efforts, suggesting that diplomatic efforts should include all parties involved in the conflict, as well as the regional counties, and the United Nations. Blinken’s reference to the United Nations is important due to the United States’ (US) high regard for the power and functions of the UN. Particularly as he intends to ask the UN to “convene Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the U.S to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”.

The U.S also intends to ask Turkey to host a meeting between both sides, as a mediating actor that will facilitate the negotiation process. The remaining sections of Blinken’s letter focuses on reiterating the importance of collaboration to build on the goals and objectives that have been previously stipulated. However, the recommendations have to extend far beyond its current scope. 

Policy Recommendations 

We know that there are no universal plan for a successful peace agreement the process is complicated. From previous negotiations we know that certain principles implemented by the U.S. have been previously shown not to work in Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S needs to carefully assess the historical aspects that have shaped Afghanistan and the reshaping of Afghan borders throughout its history.

The U.S needs to take an approach to better understand why past Afghan leaders have had great difficulty in uniting the country and in building a strong central government. The role of different tribes also needs to be taken into consideration, with their plethora of tribes each with their own traditions, policy needs to encompass this. Without this understanding a unified country and government may not be adequately achieved.

Afghan citizens are just as important to the peace process as the military forces and the Taliban, if left out of the process, Afghanistan’s people will follow those who speak to their needs. There must be a common goal and understanding throughout the region, particularly between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

What should the Afghan government do?

The Afghan government should keep working closely with the United States because a link has been created that cannot be easily broken.

However, Afghanistan should work more with the region, particularly with Pakistan. With help from Pakistan, the Afghan government will be able to better communicate with the Taliban. This might even prevent the Taliban from regaining their strength and power in Pakistan, which occurred when the Taliban was ousted by the Americans. The Afghan government, the current and future administrations, should take into account the different political needs of the tribes within the country as well as those of the opposition parties. Who is involved in the creation of Afghanistan’s new constitution and the formation of new democratic institutions is critical. It is also important to determine who democratically participates, in other words, who is included or excluded. 

What can the Taliban do? 

By having national dialogues and more meetings with the Afghan government to get a sense of what the Afghan government wishes to do without the influence of external forces, like the United States. 

The Taliban need to reduce their scale of violence to show their willingness to compromise and to show that they will uphold the demands set forth by the U.S and the Afghan government. Especially as the U.S plans to uphold the Taliban request to withdraw U.S troops by May 1st. These recommendations are superficial given the difficulty in getting the Taliban to not only agree with them but also to implement them. However, one thing is clear: they cannot be excluded from the peace process. A common ground must be met, whether that be through compromise or through power-sharing.

What Can Afghanistan Learn from Rwanda?

When the war in Afghanistan finally ends, an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Taliban fighters will have to be reintegrated into Afghan society. The current generation of Taliban fighters has known little besides war for the majority of their lives. For many, their opposition to the Afghan government and life as an insurgent has formed a key element of their identity. While this might at first cause anxiety about the possibility of reintegrating these fighters into civilian life, the example of reintegration in Rwanda provides a reason for optimism.

Context

The Rwandan genocide was one of the bloodiest events of the twentieth century. Beginning in April of 1994, Hutu militias, indoctrinated into a genocidal ideology by demagogic politicians and “hate radio,” murdered their fellow Tutsi citizens without mercy. Within a mere hundred days, 800,000 people were murdered.

Over 300,000 Rwandans have spent time in prison for their crimes during the genocide. While Rwanda Correctional Services’ main responsibility was overseeing these incarcerated Rwandans, they also provided services useful to the reintegration process. Prisoners were advised to be honest with their loved ones about the crimes they committed, to be understanding if their partner had entered a new relationship, and to work to embrace their identity as a citizen of Rwanda. Some prisoners were provided preparation for employment while incarcerated.

Other participants in the genocide who admitted their guilt and expressed remorse for their crimes chose to participate in TIG (a French acronym for “works of general service”). In exchange for staying out of prison, these citizens have agreed to complete unpaid work to repay their debt to society. TIG participants have been involved in building roads, constructing houses, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

Many former genocidaires have only recently been released from prison and allowed to return to their communities. Many have received a warm welcome. They are greeted by neighbors who are eager to reconnect and given small gifts like soda pop and beer. Some former genocidaires even manage to have meaningful relationships with the families of their victims.

Rwandan society has chosen to move forward. Recently released Rwandans often comment on the nation’s economic development since their incarceration. Government investment has provided livestock to farmers and helped boost Rwanda’s growth rate to an average of 8% over the last two decades. It is now the second-best place to do business in all of Africa. While powerful commemorations are held every April 7 to remember the genocide’s victims, daily life in Rwanda is now concerned with more simple economic issues: home construction, the agricultural season, and employment.

While reintegration in Rwanda may at first appear to be a niche issue, it makes apparent the possibility of reintegration and forgiveness after even the most extreme instances of violence. Rwanda’s example can provide lessons that are applicable to the case of Afghanistan.

Lessons

Reintegration is a difficult and painful process but it is far less costly than continued fighting. The Afghan government and the foreign powers financing both sides of the war will have to make a serious investment in the reintegration process. This process must be pragmatic and not just symbolic. While truth and reconciliation processes can be psychologically beneficial for ex-combatants, they will not deter another outbreak of violence. Given the influence of money in driving the Afghan war and Afghanistan’s general culture of impunity, it must be in the self interest of Afghanistan’s ex-combatants to accept peace.

Like Rwanda, Afghanistan must successfully foster a spirit of citizenship among participants on all sides of the conflict. While Afghanistan’s long history of decentralized governance makes this difficult, it is a necessity if there is to be a long-lasting peace. A commitment to reconstruction, economic development, and small business projects would be a significant start.

However, these projects must steer clear of the corruption and connections to poppy cultivation and trafficking that plagued previous development initiatives. Pursuing simple programs consisting of only small transfers of cash —like the Rwandan government’s “one cow” program— could help avoid these problems. These programs must not discriminate against ex-combatants. The Taliban must have a stake in Afghanistan’s future if they are to be reintegrated into society.

When a peace agreement is signed between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, the Taliban will be free men. Compelling them to take part in the sort of reintegration programs and commemorations that Rwandans do will be near impossible. Instead, they must voluntarily rejoin their communities. Through the construction of economic, social, and religious interdependence, Taliban fighters could find peace to be in their self interest. While reintegration will prove a difficult task, it will certainly be far less difficult —and less costly— than another outbreak of war in Afghanistan.

— Connor Bulgrin

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad Visits Kabul For Afghan Peace Talks

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has left Washington DC for a trip to Kabul. His trip aims to resolve the stalemate on the Afghan Peace Process and resume the discussion with the afghan technocrats, the afghan warlords, the Mujaheddin and the Taliban representatives. 

The trip comes just a few days after the anniversary of the Afghan Peace Process, which in the last year has experienced some back and forth. Many factors have affected the process including, a lack of interest from the Taliban in the process overall, a domestic rivalry to the government, and the call from the opposition parties for the current government to be dissolved and replaced by an interim government. All of these factors have posed challenges with compliance to the Afghan Peace Process. 

Amid the looming deadline for the US troops to withdraw from the area, the US government has organised this trip intending to create the conditions necessary not to leave Afghanistan in chaos as it has happened with the cessation of Soviet foreign aid in 1991. All due to the concerns about the increasing violence, the uncertainty, and the stalemate between the negotiation parties.

In fact, as the US State Department has announced, the aim of Khalilzad’s trip was to resume the discussions with all parties in order to achieve “a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

The result of the trip was the request from the US envoy for an UN-hosted conference on Afghanistan in order to have a regional and international debate on the establishment of peace in the area. Eleven major international conferences concerning Afghanistan have already taken place since the insurgence of instability in the area, with the last one held in November 2020 in Geneva and the first being the one held in Bonn in 2001. 

The Bonn conference took place with the aim of re-creating the State of Afghanistan and defining a plan for governing the country following the U.S. invasion in response to 9/11 terrorist attacks. The agreement sought to establish a government with a strong, centralised power, a new constitution and an independent judiciary. But also to hold free and fair elections, a centralised security sector, and the protection of rights of women and also minorities, such as religious and ethnic groups. 

One common critique on the Bonn conference is the exclusion of the Taliban from the negotiations, to which Brahimi refers as Bonn’s “original sin,”. The next conference would be a Bonn-style meeting, where to discuss at the international level the prospect of a participatory government, but that this time it would include the Taliban in the debate. 

As Shahzada Massoud, a close aide to former president Hamid Karzai, has said: “A grand international conference that will be similar to the Bonn Conference will be held, in which the Taliban and the republic side will participate at the leadership level. At the same time, the international community, including the United States and the regional countries, will reach a political agreement that will take its legitimacy from the international community,”.

The strength of setting up international conferences lies in the ability to involve international actors and regional actors, like Pakistan and Iran. The conference lays the groundwork for multilateral discussions and negotiations between parties, encouraging Afghanistan’s neighbours and international actors to support the end of violence and to create stability in the area. The involvement of international and regional actors is pivotal for the creation of peace in Afghanistan. Pressure from the US on the Taliban to cease violence and on state response to terrorism, as well as Pakistan cooperation, are determinants of the future of Afghanistan. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Afghan foreign ministry

Domestic Terrorism Discussion with Michael Sherwin, Acting U.S. Attorney for D.C.

On Thursday 25th February, Mr. Sherwin joined Ahmad Mohibi, President of Rise to Peace, for an insightful discussion concerning domestic terrorism and explored the legal repercussions for the January 6th rioters, who stormed the U.S. Capitol. 

The discussion centered around what steps The Attorney’s Office for D.C. can take to prosecute these individuals, while also highlighting the structural limitations given U.S. laws. As of February 25th, over 330 people have been charged for their actions during the riot, with 290 of those cases being federal. Sherwin repeatedly addressed that regardless of who is President, a “crime is a crime” within his office and those who can be charged, will be.

The important factor in play is that there are no domestic terrorism laws within the U.S. Despite there being no specific law relating to domestic terrorism, there is a full arsenal of criminal charges including: trespassing, obstruction of justice, and destruction of Government property to name a few. Sherwin reassured the audience that “despite what label you want to put on these people… if there is a crime they will be charged”. His faith in the Justice System to uphold the equal application of justice regardless of race, gender, or sexuality was refreshing, particularly during these trying times in American history. 

Due to the rising levels of hatred and discontent in the U.S., the Biden administration has made it the top priority to fight domestic terrorism. Despite domestic terrorism becoming a growing concern across the U.S., there is no one clear consensus on how to properly approach what has become a new societal norm. Sherwin argued that we need to revaluate how we look at these cases and “remove the walls of domestic or international terrorism but focus on extremism” which is the root cause of these ills. Terrorism has no boundaries and is grounded in extremist ideology. This is where the United States needs to start in order to dismantle the growing extremist ideology on all sides and spectrums. 

This is where Rise to Peace comes in. We are looking around the U.S., using the information provided to us by Sherwin, and planning the best route to tackle the issue of extremism in the U.S. within a digital realm. Our upcoming project hopes to look at what we can do concerning this rising concern and how we can digitally counter extremists across the U.S. before further damage can be done.

Image Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Biden Administration Resumes Taliban Peace Talks

After weeks of increased violence, uncertainty, and a stalemate between the negotiating parties, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban resumed earlier this week in Doha, amid a looming deadline for US troops to fully withdraw from the country by May of this year. Despite the flurry of historic developments that have taken place in Afghanistan over the past year, the next couple of months will be a critical test for both the momentum of the peace process and the patience of the major players involved.

For the Biden Administration, the outcome of the dialogue in Doha will be the first major foreign policy challenge, one that will either culminate in a historic agreement or continued entrenchment for what has already been America’s longest war. Public opinion polls conducted amongst a diverse group of American voters suggest that while most have experienced fatigue with the conflict, very few support a complete withdrawal of US troops, even when accounting for partisan differences.

Nevertheless, a full drawdown would likely strengthen the Taliban’s position, and encourage a repeat of the chaos that ensued in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, and the cessation of Soviet foreign aid in 1991, which quickly brought down the government of Mohammad Najibullah a year later.

The Taliban’s current fighting force (estimated between 40,000-60,000 fighters) would take complete control of Afghan territory, highly unlikely. However, a potential breakdown of the current unity government, buttressed by the Taliban’s enduring connection to both Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-Khorasan), would whet the Taliban’s risk appetite for sustained engagement with the Afghan armed forces as seen in the past months.

Given the fragility of the Ghani government, and waning enthusiasm from the American side, the Biden Administration’s best option is to pursue a compromise that would postpone their scheduled withdrawal in May and buy more time for the negotiators. Dr. Amin Ahmadi, who is a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, notes the importance of a clear American policy. “I think they can pursue a multi-pressure strategy. First, the US exit from Afghanistan should be condition-based on peace in Afghanistan. The Americans should make it clear to the Taliban that if they don’t want peace, they will stay in Afghanistan.”

At present, US policy toward Afghanistan remains vague, and although President Biden’s approach is expected to be a marked departure from that of his predecessor, it appears unlikely that he will undo either of two signature moves made by the Trump Administration, including the existing withdrawal agreement, and the recent drawdown of American troop levels to their present level of 2,500. Key personnel tied to the current deliberations, most notably US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, are also expected to be retained in the Biden Administration’s foreign policy team.

Ahmadi adds that the “Taliban have the upper hand at negotiations, not because of the US-Taliban deal, but because they can simply walk away from the talks and go back fighting. The Doha agreement has defined the US troops withdrawal condition-based so there is no pressure on Taliban at the moment.” The Taliban has also benefited from the successful release of imprisoned fighters, and the international legitimacy that the US peace deal conferred to its organization and its external relations with foreign powers.

The recent recess in peace talks saw the Taliban appeal to Iran, Russia, and Turkey in a bid to cultivate support and obstruct US efforts to put pressure on regional actors. In the event that calls for an interim government (one that would presumably replace Ghani) go unheeded, the opportunity would be ripe for the Taliban to exploit factionalism between Ghani’s supporters and political rivals.

Khalid Noor, the youngest member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, notes that the “interim government is preferred by a majority of the political community, however, there should be some sort of guarantee by the Taliban, along with the support of regional actors before such a thing could happen.” Yet, Ghani and his supporters have been steadfast in their opposition to such a plan, suggesting that a premature conclusion of his term would be a rebuke of Afghanistan’s republic system. Nevertheless, even if Ghani agrees to a transfer of power, Dr. Ahmadi suggests that “the question of an interim government should be part of the solution, not the solution.”

In order to reach the ideal scenario of a postponed withdrawal, the United States will likely have to lean on its existing relationship with state actors in lieu of a direct appeal to the Taliban. While generating strong buy-in from the likes of Russia, Iran, and Turkey is unlikely in the next 2 months, the Biden Administration does possess leverage over the Taliban’s main source of financial support (member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council) and political support (Pakistan).

Ahmadi agrees, noting that “the most important country for the Taliban in Pakistan, and when Pakistan is under American pressure, it will help the peace process.” By wielding the threat of sanctions, the United States could fulfill Pakistan’s long-standing demand to be removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s “grey list”, which would provide relief for Pakistan’s access to global capital markets and encourage foreign direct investment. 

The economic argument for peace in Afghanistan has only grown stronger given the presence of lucrative natural resources, particularly mineral wealth, and the favorable location that could help the country generate transit fees from energy projects and improved infrastructure to facilitate trade between East and West Asia.

Dr. Adib Farhadi, an Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict at the University of South Florida, believes the economic case could be compelling to win support from regional players like Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran. “You counter violent extremism by winning hearts and minds, which includes giving Afghans jobs. Afghanistan is a rich country, but the economics only works if everyone is included.” The recent commodity boom bodes well for the resources found in Afghanistan, with technology-critical elements like Lithium and Rare Earth Elements in a large abundance.

With little more than 60 days remaining before US troops are scheduled to withdraw, the next set of developments will be a harbinger for the trajectory of the peace process. Sustaining the momentum of the milestones achieved in the past year will require difficult political compromises from a long list of state and non-state actors.

Rise to Peace