Afghanistan peace process, US pushes UN-led peace conference in letter to Afghan president: Report

The letter said the United States would ask the UN to convene foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and United States

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NEW YORK, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reportedly written a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposing a UN-led conference in Turkey of representatives of six countries, including Pakistan, to discuss a “unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”.

In the Feb. 28 letter, which The New York Times said it had obtained, Blinken signaled that the Biden administration had lost faith in faltering negotiations between President Ghani’s government and the Taliban.

The what the Times described as unusually blunt letter, Blinken asked Ghani to “understand the urgency of my tone,” reflecting American frustration with the Afghan president’s “often intransigent stance in stalled peace talks.”

The letter said the United States would ask the UN to convene foreign ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and United States.

It added the United States will ask Turkey to host a senior-level meeting of “both sides in the coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement.”

Negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in September as part of a February 2020 agreement between the militants and the United States. But the talks have faltered over issues like a prisoner exchange and reductions in violence.

Blinken wrote that the United States had not decided whether to withdraw the remaining 2,500 American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as outlined in its agreement with the Taliban. He expressed concern that “the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” following a US withdrawal.

The State Department declined to comment on the letter but said in a statement that “all options remain on the table” regarding the withdrawal of American troops, according to the report.

“We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1,” the statement said.

 

The existence of the letter was reported after Zalmay Khalilzad, the American peace envoy, delivered an outline of US policy options to Ghani’s government and Taliban negotiators last week, the report said. The proposals, intended to reinvigorate the stalled peace negotiations, included a road map for a future Afghan government with Taliban representation, a revised Afghan constitution using the current one as an “initial template” and terms for a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.

Significantly, the Times pointed out that the proposals called for national elections after the establishment of a “transitional peace government of Afghanistan.” The Taliban have opposed elections, dismissing them as Western interference.

The proposals also include guaranteed rights for women and for religious and ethnic minorities, and protections for a free press.

The outline presented by Khalilzad proposed a High Council for Islamic Jurisprudence to advise an independent judiciary to resolve conflicts over the interpretation of Islamic law. The proposals recognized Islam as the country’s official religion and acknowledged the importance of “Islamic values” in a future Afghan state.

The outline proposed that the government and the Taliban each name seven members to the High Council, with a 15th member appointed by the Afghan president. Similar arrangements were proposed for a commission to prepare a revised constitution and for a Joint Cease-fire Monitoring and Implementation Commission.

The proposals also called for the Taliban to remove “their military structures and officers from neighbouring countries.”

An introduction to the document said it “sets forth principles for governance, security, and rule of law and presents options for power sharing that could help the two sides reach a political settlement that ends the war.”

The Biden administration has said the Taliban have not lived up to their commitments to reduce violence and to cut ties with extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the Times pointed out. “But Washington has also grown impatient with Ghani, who has refused to consider an interim government that would almost certainly end his second five-year term as president.”

 

Blinken’s letter expressed impatience with the pace of negotiations, saying the United States intended “to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

 

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