Afghan politicians reacted to the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s letter to Afghan leaders stressing the urgency for peace efforts, saying, among other things, the letter highlights a stronger role for US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in the peace process.
The letter, seen by TOLOnews, proposes a United Nations-led conference in Turkey on Afghanistan’s peace.
The politicians said that the recent calls between the US secretary of state, the US national security adviser and Afghan NSA Hamdullah Mohib could not change the Afghan government’s stance on peace and therefore Mr. Blinken produced this blunt letter.
Afghan politicians also believe that the way the letter has been sent “has reduced” President Ghani’s political status, but the Afghan foreign minister said such communication is normal.
“We allowed for this in our diplomacy--that such contacts are made; therefore, I don’t see it as a type of offense or indifference,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said.
The First Vice President Amrullah Saleh had a direct and harsh reaction to the letter, saying that it will not change the Afghan government’s position on the peace process.
Referring to Saleh’s remarks, Atmar said: “What is important is not the way the letter has been sent, but the context of the letter, which stresses once again the common interests of Afghanistan and the US ... and the need for cooperation between the two countries.”
Afghan politicians saw significance in the fact that the letter was sent to both President Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah.
“The letter shows that Dr. Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are seen as equal… It means that if Ghani opposes it, the US gives the weight to Abdullah to move the peace process forward,” university lecturer Faiz Mohammad Zaland said.
The US secretary of state has held a phone conversation with President Ghani, and the US defense secretary has spoken with the Afghan president as well.
Afghan analysts said that the letter shows that Khalilzad’s job is vital for the United States.
“The message of the letter was that the people’s situation should be addressed, the unending war should be addressed,” said Sattar Murad, head of the political committee of the Jamiat-e-Islami party of Afghanistan.
Politicians from Afghanistan, including President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, as well as foreign envoys, are expected to attend a meeting hosted by Moscow within the next 10 days to discuss the Afghan peace process.
“A conference will be held. Some figures have been invited. The reconciliation council chairman has also been invited,” the reconciliation council’s spokesman Fraidoon Khwazoon said.
This comes as Khalilzad recently traveled to Pakistan after his visit to Kabul and Doha. Reports indicate that he has met with military and civilian officials in Islamabad about the new proposed draft for Afghan peace.
Blinken’s Letter to Ghani
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani seen by TOLOnews put forth suggestions to the Afghan government to accelerate the peace process, including convening a UN-facilitated conference with international stakeholders, proposals to facilitate discussion between the two sides to form a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, a meeting in Turkey between both sides to finalize a peace agreement, and a revised proposal for a 90-day reduction in violence. However, along with these proposals, Blinken made clear that the United States is considering all options regarding Afghanistan, including the May 1st deadline for full withdrawal.
This letter is reportedly similar to one shared with the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah.
First, Blinken suggests that the UN should convene a meeting of foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.
Second, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad should share with President Ghani and the Taliban leaders written proposals “aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire. “These proposals reflect some of the ideas included in the roadmap for the peace process,” Blinken wrote. On this point, Blinken elaborated: “In sharing these documents, we do not intend to dictate terms to the parties…. Rather the documents will enable the Islamic Republic and the Taliban to move urgently to the tasks of developing a) the foundational principles that will guide Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements b) a roadmap to a new, inclusive government and c) the terms of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
Third, Blinken says Turkey will be asked to host a senior-level meeting of both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement. Blinken urges Ghani or his “authoritative designees” to attend the meeting.
Blinken, in his fourth point, says the US has prepared a revised proposal for a 90-day reduction in violence, “which is intended to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban and to coincide with our diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement between the two parties.” He asked President Ghani to “positively consider” the proposal for the reduction in violence.
Following his outline of these suggested steps, President Ghani said in the letter that the United States has not ruled out any option regarding Afghanistan:
“I must also make clear to you Mr. President, that as our policy process continues in Washington, The United States has not ruled out any option. We are considering the full withdrawal of our forces by May 1st, as we consider other options,” he writes.
Further, Blinken writes that even with the continuation of the US financial assistance to Afghan forces after an American withdrawal, he is "concerned that the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” and that he shares this so that President Ghani “understands the urgency of my tone regarding the collective work outlined in this letter."