‘Blinken’s letter will not change govt stance on peace’

KABUL (TOLOnews): US Secretary Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ashraf Ghani, in which he seeks to kick-start the stalled peace process, “may have surprised many,” however, for the Afghan government, it was “not a concern” and the government will not change its stance on reconciliation efforts, said First Vice President Amrullah Saleh at an event on Monday.

In this blunt letter, Blinken proposed a United Nations-led peace conference in Turkey aimed at forming an inclusive Afghan government with the Taliban and establishing a three-month reduction in violence that will lead to a ceasefire.

But Saleh warned that there will never be any compromise on Afghanistan’s Constitution and on the people’s right to vote.

The first vice president, who addressed an event marking the 7th anniversary of the death of Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, said Afghanistan will not accept “illegitimate demands” that negate the people’s right to vote.

“Our relations with the West and the Americans are fundamental, but whenever our interests are violated, we inform our nation.”

“We will not ignore our Constitution,” Saleh said, adding that “we can discuss the election and the date but will never let anyone take the people’s right to vote.”

He said the United States can hold a conference and decide on the presence of its troops in Afghanistan or negotiate with the Taliban but added that it is the legitimate right of the Afghan government to not compromise based on others’ calendar over the fate of 35 million people in Afghanistan.

“We need peace,” Saleh said. “We understand that peace is a need for us. No one will stand against peace. We will make peace with dignity.”

He added: “We will never accept a coerced and imposed peace.”

Echoing President Ashraf Ghani’s recent remarks, Saleh said the republic’s side is ready to agree on the date of the election “if the Taliban agree on the principle of elections with us.”

“We will never bow to a deal by some individuals that endangers the system, our achievements and the people’s right to vote,” Saleh said.

At the same event, Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said he received the letter two days ahead of US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip to Kabul.

Abdullah cautiously supported the US remarks in the letter and said that “although I don’t want to defend the letter, there are important issues that have been brought up in it.”

“No one can impose anything on the people of Afghanistan,” Abdullah said. “Division, discrimination and disunity allow anything to be imposed on us.”

Abdullah reiterated that the right to vote is one of the biggest achievements of Afghans that should not be compromised.

Another Afghan politician and senior advisor to Ghani, Mohammad Mohaqiq, meanwhile echoed Saleh’s remarks, saying the country’s achievements of the last two decades will not be ignored.

Mohaqiq said that “coercive” language and a “coerced” peace are not possible in Afghanistan. “The weakness in the message of the US State Department is that they have not recognized Afghanistan’s structure and it has coercive language and a coerced and tailored peace will not lead anywhere,” he said.

He added that countries should consider Afghanistan’s dignity.

“When we say that the Taliban must join it is because we have a system, an army, human rights and Constitution. Why should we join the Taliban? We do not want to fight against any party to join them in mountains.” Mohaqiq said.

Meanwhile, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, Roland Kobia, indirectly referred to the letter, saying in a tweet that “Afghanistan has a Constitution, had elections, held Loya Jirgas, has Joint Declaration with the US, is engaged in Doha process.”

He said the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has the support of the “vast majority” of the international community, and “the world in United Nations Security Council and Geneva has committed to protect achievements and Republic.”

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.”