Changes in Afghanistan: Is Peace on Its Way?

There has been significant change within Afghanistan over the past several weeks, as the national government faces re-election and the United States’ talks with the Taliban continue. The country’s parliamentary elections took place on October 20th, and was plagued with unrest. The Taliban served as a security threat throughout election day, and this danger coupled with numerous logistical issues led to the election being extended in various parts of the country. In the Kandahar province there was a one week voting delay, and in the Ghazni province, the election has been postponed indefinitely. Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced that approximately 4 million people voted in this election. There were at least 28 people that were killed during election day.

 There is fear that the violence present during the parliamentary elections will extend to the presidential election, which will take place later this year. Afghanistan’s presidential election, which was scheduled for April 20th, is now delayed until July. Jan Abdul Bade Sayad, the chairman of the Independent Election Commission, stated that this shift has been due to, “the harsh winter, transporting election materials, security, and budget issues.” However, the recent peace talks that are occurring between the Taliban and the United States has also influenced the current presidential administration’s decision as to when to hold the election. Current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has attempted to establish numerous truces and meetings with the Taliban, but to no avail. If a peace settlement is reached before the election date, it may improve Ghani’s chances of re-election. There have been many actors critical of this decision as it is not in agreement with the country’s constitution, and they have asked for Ghani to follow the outlined system.

The United States and the Taliban have been in communication to discuss a potential ceasefire, but the insurgent group is refusing to meet with the Afghan government on this matter. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stated, “Discussions are taking place with the representatives of the United States about ending the occupation, a matter that does not concern the Kabul administration whatsoever.” Most recently, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with the insurgent group in late December, with officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates present as well. Mujahid stated that one of the key points of this meeting was to discuss the withdrawal of United States and NATO forces from Afghanistan.

U.S. President Trump’s proposition to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by this summer has been met with concern by many, especially by the latter country’s neighbors. The reduction of American security forces in the country could lead to the movement of refugees from Afghanistan, and could serve as a destabilizer within its borders. Violence has been on the rise as well; most recently, the Taliban has encroached on the Afghan city of Sar-e- Pul, which has major oil wells. There were about 40 Afghan security forces that were wounded or killed during the first week of January because of this conflict. These wells are economically vital for the country, and if taken, would help the Taliban’s finances. Violence such as this has been occurring even while the insurgent group has been conducting peace talks with the United States and other foreign governments. The next few months will show how these talks proceed, as well as the decision on the country’s next presidential election.