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India, Russia and Iran to be part of new US plan on ending war in Afghanistan

  • March 07, 2021

The US plan was conveyed by US secretary of state Antony Blinken in a letter sent to President Ashraf Ghani. The letter gives the first glimpse of the Biden administration’s approach towards the situation in Afghanistan as it undertakes a review of the peace process with the Taliban and also of plans to withdraw all US troops from the country by 1 May.

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According to Blinken, “It is my belief that these countries share an abiding common interest in a stable Afghanistan and must work together if we are to succeed.”

If convened it would be a rare occasion when regional countries with borders with Afghanistan and those in its neighbourhood would be coming together to discuss a solution to the Afghan conflict. Previous efforts have seen Iran not being invited due to tensions with the US or India staying out due to objections from Pakistan.

Blinken’s letter — which comes a little more than a year after an agreement for intra-Afghan talks and a pull out of US troops was signed between the US and the Taliban in Doha in February last year— was made public by Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV channel on Sunday.

Almost coinciding with the letter being made public, US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, telephoned Indian foriegn minister S Jaishankar. “Received a call from US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad @US4AfghanPeace. Discussed latest developments pertaining to peace talks. We will remain in touch,” Jaishankar said in a Twitter post without giving details.

In his letter, Blinken put out four elements that he said are part of a “high-level diplomatic effort with the parties and with regional countries and the United Nations” to move matters “more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

First, the US would ask the “United Nations to convene Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the United States to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”, Blinken said in his missive.

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The second element was that Khalilzad would prepare and share in writing with Ghani and the Taliban leaders “written proposals aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and ceasefire.” Blinken said. These proposals will also include some ideas put into a roadmap for the peace process that Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib had shared with the US ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson.

“In sharing these documents, we do not intend to dictate terms to the parties. Rather, the documents will enable [the Afghan government] 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,” Blinken said.

The third element will include the US asking the Turkish government to host a senior-level meeting of the Afghan government and the Taliban in the coming weeks to “finalise a peace agreement” Blinken said adding: “I urge you or your authoritative designees to join other representatives of the Islamic Republic in this meeting.”

The fourth element of the efforts will be aimed at reducing violence. Blinken said that he shared Ghani’s view that “every effort must be made to reduce the high levels of violence in Afghanistan, which are exacting an unacceptable toll on the Afghan people and deeply undermining efforts to achieve peace.” The US Secretary of State added that the US had prepared a “revised proposal for a 90-day Reduction-in-Violence,” intended to prevent a Spring Offensive by the Taliban and to “coincide with our diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement.” Khalilzad would share this proposal with Ghani, Blinken said.

In his letter, Blinken also called for greater unity among Afghan politicians to take forward the new process. “Unity and inclusivity on the (Afghan) side are, I believe, essential for the difficult work that lies ahead. As you and your countrymen know all too well, disunity on the part of Afghan leaders proved disastrous in the early 1990s and must not be allowed to sabotage the opportunity before us,” he said.

He also said that as the Biden administration’s review continues, the US “has not ruled out any option” and is still “considering the full withdrawal of our forces” by 1 May “as we consider other options.”

“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 echoing concerns expressed by some regional countries including India.

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