The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on his first visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, said Sunday that the Biden administration wants to see “a responsible end” in Afghan war but the level of violence must decrease for “fruitful” diplomacy to have a chance, the Associated Press reported.
“In terms of an end date or setting a specific date for withdrawal, that’s the domain of my boss,” Austin said.
Austin met with President Ghani met on Sunday afternoon, the Presidential Palace said, adding that both expressed their concerns over the increase of violence in the country.
Ghani and US defense secretary stressed that enduring and just peace is the main solution for the current situation in Afghanistan, the Palace said, adding that Austin said that the United States is supporting Afghanistan in this respect.
Austin on his stop in Kabul to “listen and learn” from Afghan leader and “inform my participation” in reviewing the future of the American force.
Biden said last week in an ABC News interview that it will be “tough” for the US to meet a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But Biden said that if the deadline, which is laid out in an agreement between the Trump administration and the Taliban, is extended, it wouldn’t be by a “lot longer.”
The Taliban on Friday warned of consequences if the US doesn’t meet the deadline. Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters that if American troops were to stay beyond May 1, “it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side. ... Their violation will have a reaction.”
“It’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country,” Austin said, as quoted by the Associated Press. “We’d really like to see that violence come down and I think if it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work.”
In a letter to President Ghani earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was urgent to make peace in Afghanistan and that all options remained on the table.
On Sunday, President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday on his Nawruz festival message called on the Taliban to stop violence and said the group has no legitimacy for the ongoing violence.
“Who is giving the legitimacy to (the Taliban) kill of people's brothers and sisters. Stop it,” Ghani said, calling on Taliban to “come and accept each other.”
“We will achieve peace,” Ghani said, but added that it should be a peace that ends bloodshed in the country and a peace with justice.
“We have the capacity to stand on our own feet, but it needs unity,” he added.
Before this, the Afghan republic’s chief negotiator Masoom Stanekzai said President Ghani will attend the US-proposed peace conference in Istanbul – that is expected early in April – if the Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada attends the event.
The peace conference led by the United Nations will happen on the request of the United States to foster the efforts for achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan.
“It depends on who will come from the opponent side, whether Mullah Hibatullah will attend or not,” Stanekzai said.
Referring on the US-proposed peace plan for Afghanistan, Stanekzai said it is not possible to fully apply a foreign plan.
He described the Moscow conference as productive and said he hopes the upcoming event in Turkey will expedite the stalled peace process.
Stanekzai said that there should be a government in Afghanistan in which the people would have the right to vote and freedom of speech.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has confirmed that the Istanbul summit will be held in April