US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has written to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, suggesting ways to accelerate Afghanistan’s stalled peace process in Afghanistan and achieve a lasting ceasefire.
In the letter outlining the strategy of US President Joe Biden’s administration, Blinken proposed convening a United Nations-facilitated conference with foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”.
The letter, which was published on Sunday by TOLOnews, an Afghan news outlet, also said US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been asked to share with Ghani and Taliban leaders “written proposals aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire”.
Blinken said these documents will enable the government in Kabul and the Taliban to move towards developing principles that will guide the country’s constitutional and governing arrangements, develop a road map to a new, inclusive government and develop the terms of a permanent ceasefire.
Exclusive: US Secretary Antony Blinken in a letter to President Ghani–similar to one shared with Chairman Abdullah–presents four suggestions for Afghan peace process (see thread): pic.twitter.com/L5fYa09Y2g
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) March 7, 2021
In addition, the US will ask Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of both sides in the coming weeks to finalise a peace agreement, the letter said.
Blinken further said a revised proposal for a 90-day reduction-in-violence has also been prepared, “intended to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban” and to “support a political settlement between the parties”.
The top US diplomat concluded his letter by saying Washington has not ruled out any option regarding Afghanistan, including the full withdrawal of its forces by May 1.
“Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the United States to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains,” Blinken said.
“I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter.”
Reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, James Bays said Blinken had ended the letter with a “chilling message”.
“In other words, he is telling the Afghan government we are going to do a fast-track process and you better get on board, otherwise American forces might leave and you might be toppled by the Taliban,” said Bays.
Violence and targeted killings have surged since the Afghan government began US-backed negotiations with the Taliban last September, and Western security officials say the armed group, already holding large swaths of rural areas, has begun to gain ground around towns and cities.
‘The key is the vote of the Afghan people’
US President Joe Biden’s administration has begun a review of its strategy for Afghanistan, including an agreement reached with the Taliban in early 2020 in Qatar’s capital, Doha, that paved the way for talks between the armed group and the Afghan government.
On Saturday, Ghani said his government is ready to discuss the possibility of holding fresh elections in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban.
“Transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,” Ghani said at the opening of the parliament session in Kabul.
“We stand ready to discuss holding free, fair and inclusive elections under the auspices of the international community. We can also talk about the date of the elections and reach a conclusion.”
Ghani met Khalilzad in Kabul last week to discuss ways to inject momentum into the stalled peace negotiations with Taliban representatives being held in Qatar. After his talks in Kabul, Khalilzad went to Doha.
Afghan officials and Western diplomats said during his visit to Kabul, Khalilzad had floated the idea of establishing an interim government after bringing Afghan and Taliban leaders together for a multilateral conference outside the country.
But Ghani said the only way to form a government should be through elections.
“I advise those who go to this or that gate to gain power is that political power in Afghanistan has a gate, and the key is the vote of the Afghan people,” he said.
“Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan. These papers have been written in the past and will be written in the future. Our guarantee is our constitution.”
On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Naeem Wardak confirmed a meeting between the armed group, Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, the head of US forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolute Support mission.
“Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation. Likewise, the current situation of Afghanistan and the rapidity and effectiveness of the intra-Afghan negotiations were discussed,” Wardak said.