US Letter to Afghanistan: Forget Democracy, Share Power for Free
The arrow will likely point towards the govt in Kabul if things don’t go according to Washington’s amended plan.
The essence of the ‘Afghanistan leaks’ – the letter from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to President Ashraf Ghani and a draft peace agreement – may boil down to one question and that is: who takes responsibility for failure if the ideas for an accelerated process fall flat?
Given the tone of Blinken’s letter and the pressure on Ghani to deliver on many fronts simultaneously, the arrow will likely point towards the government in Kabul if things don’t go according to Washington’s amended plan. An elected government could end up being the scapegoat instead of the Taliban, supplied and supported by Pakistan.
For US, President Ashraf Ghani is More a Hurdle than a Partner
The contents of the letter, the hint of finality and the underlying impatience all but indicate that the US considers Ghani more a hurdle than a partner in peace at this stage.
Lisa Curtis, former senior director in the National Security Council for South Asia, called Blinken’s letter “disappointing”, and said it seemed to repeat a familiar pattern of the last few years. “When there is a fork in the road, the US tends to put the blame on Ghani and pushes the government to make more concessions while not asking the Taliban to do the same.”
Without the Taliban making “commensurate concessions,” the US would end up “tipping the balance” in their favour, Curtis said. But then it’s easier for Washington to push Ghani than the Taliban or so the Pakistanis have convinced the Americans.
US President Wants to End Afghan War: How Will the Moving Parts Come Together?
The fact that India will be at the table thanks to some dogged diplomacy and Blinken’s inclusive vision when a United Nations-led peace conference is convened should give some solace to Kabul.
New Delhi could provide the much-needed balance to the Pakistan-only view, which the Russians have conveniently adopted if for nothing else than to complicate US efforts.
The intra-Afghan talks have gone nowhere over the past few months, targeted assassinations have increased, the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain intact and there is no ceasefire anywhere on the horizon. Women in the media, judiciary and other professions have been special objects of Taliban’s wrath in a clear sign of things to come.
But it’s also no secret that President Joe Biden has little patience for a continued presence of US troops in Afghanistan — he has wanted an end to the war since he was vice-president in the last Democratic administration. The 1 May deadline for a complete US withdrawal looms large, but US officials stress that all options remain on the table and no decisions have been made about their “force posture”.
Thus, the stepped up eight-page roadmap designed to “jump start” the floundering peace process. With barely seven weeks to go, it’s hard to see how the many moving parts will come together.
Proposal for a New Constitution
The three-part proposed peace agreement gives “guiding principles” for making an entirely new Constitution, which would guarantee women’s rights and safety of all ethnic groups and establish a single, unified state with no parallel governments or parallel security forces. The guiding principles are lofty and inclusive.
Part two covers details of a transitional government, an idea that US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad has reportedly been pushing since he began his shuttle diplomacy for President Donald Trump. The Biden Administration chose to retain him both for continuity and for basic synergy of objectives, the most important being an orderly exit for US troops.
The Ghani government strongly objects to the very idea of an interim or transitional government when there already is an elected government in place.
Kabul sees this as legitimising the Taliban and bringing them in from the back door.
US-Afghan: A Better Balance in Demands is Needed
Part three deals with a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” which will be announced when the parties sign the agreement. It stipulates that Taliban remove “their military structures and offices from neighbouring countries,” which primarily means Pakistan.
But there has to be better sequencing. “I think it’s very important to ensure that a ceasefire is agreed up front before you race to this interim government arrangement because that only delegitimises a sitting government,” Curtis said.
There also has to be a better balance in demands made to both sides.
Khalilzad pushed Ghani hard last year to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners but got nothing in exchange. The violence escalated. The latest US proposal for a 90-day reduction in violence is unlikely to be honoured by the Taliban without military pressure.
Some analysts believe that Washington could work more closely with the Europeans and find a better bargain.
The Taliban want their leaders to be “delisted” from the UN’s list of designated terrorists and they want international aid and legitimacy. Why always give them the upper hand?
(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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