By Ali Ahmad
A letter sent to the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani by the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken warned that the U.S. troops will fully withdraw from Afghanistan by the 1st of May 2021 as stipulated in the Taliban-U.S. deal signed in February last year. The letter warns that even with the financial assistance of the U.S. after the withdrawal, the situation will worsen and the Taliban could make “rapid territorial gains.” The U.S. has shared a proposal through its envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad for a “new inclusive government” both with the Taliban and the Afghan government titled, “Transitional Peace Government”.
The U.S. is yet to complete its review of their strategy to withdraw from Afghanistan. In the letter, the Secretary of State dictates several ways to accelerate the Afghan peace process. It proposes first three main points. First, an international conference under the auspicious of the United Nations with delegations from regional countries and the U.S. to “discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.” Second, a senior-level meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban hosted by Turkey. Finally, a proposal of a 90-day reduction in violence to prevent the Taliban Spring offensive – Taliban annual launching of attacks against the Afghan government. Blinken also directed Khalilzad in the letter, to share a roadmap with the Taliban leaders and the Afghan government for a political settlement and ceasefire.
The peace talks between the Afghan government delegation and the Taliban negotiators began in September last year in Doha. These peace talks, due to a possible review of the peace agreement signed by the Taliban and the U.S. government last year have stalled since the Joe Biden administration took office on the 20th of January.
On the 14th of March, the High Council for National Reconciliation convened a meeting in Kabul for the former and current political leaders including the former President Hamid Karzai, to discuss the U.S. proposal draft to accelerate the peace process. The Taliban also received the proposal, but are yet to clarify their position, as tweeted by Mohammad Naeem, the Taliban spokesman.
Reactions by Afghan leaders
The reactions of Afghan political leaders, both in and out of the Afghan government have varied to the extent of which a new administration was formed to replace the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani who has always rejected the establishment of any interim government. Ashraf Ghani has vowed to transfer power to a new administration, only through a democratic election.
During his speech at the opening of parliament in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani stated that the “transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,” but he said he is ready for a possible earlier election to push the peace negotiations with the Taliban forward.
The first vice president, Amrullah Saleh reacted harshly towards the letter sent to his government by the Secretary of State. During a speech on the 10th of March at a gathering in Kabul, Saleh said that he would never sign a document that imposes peace. He said that his government was not concerned about the letter and it will not change the Afghan government’s position on the peace process. “They (U.S.) have the full right to convene conferences on the future of 2500 U.S. soldiers and a few thousand NATO troops, give interviews, write letters, negotiate with the Taliban, but this is also our right not to adjust the destiny of 35 million people of Afghanistan according to the calendar of others,” said Saleh.
“Yes, we are poor, we are reliant on international aid, but this has not forced us to bow for such things. This has not broken our dignity and honor throughout history,” Saleh stated. He emphasized that he will not surrender and will reject a peace imposed on Afghanistan.
During an interview with AP, the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai hoped that the U.S. proposal pushes the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a political settlement. Afghans “are in hurry for peace,” said Karzai.
Regional countries’ contribution in Afghan peace process
To restore peace and stability in Afghanistan, the role of the regional countries particularly Pakistan must not be ignored. Pakistan is home to nearly three million Afghan refugees since the war began in 1978. The Taliban leadership is also based in Pakistan where they have built a strong relationship with the country’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from where they get their support to wage war inside Afghanistan. Pakistan will not stop attempting to install its puppet government in the form of Taliban to return to power.
Canada’s Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Chris Alexander believes that “there will not be peace in Afghanistan unless Pakistan stops its covert and now increasing covert proxy war in Afghanistan.” In an interview with Afghanistan’s main news channel, Tolonews, Alexander said that “the Taliban speak on behalf of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies at the peace table, and not their own (behalf).”
Turkey announced that it will host the next round of Afghanistan peace talks in April. Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has announced that the meeting in Turkey is not an alternative to the stalled peace talks in Doha, rather it supplements the Doha talks, a statement made by the Afghanistan Foreign Ministry.
Since the peace talks in Doha have not moved any further since the start of 2021, Russia has offered to host a three-day peace conference beginning on the 18th of March in Moscow. The Afghan government will send a 12-member delegation led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation to Moscow. The Taliban have also confirmed to send “a high-level delegation of ten members” led by the head of the political office of the Taliban to attend the meeting in Moscow.