Blinken offers plan to bolster Afghan peace process

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is proposing a series of steps to help jumpstart Afghanistan’s stalled peace process between the government and Taleban, according to a letter from Blinken to Afghanistan’s President Ashra Ghani published on Sunday by Afghanistan’s TOLONews.

The letter calls for bringing the two sides together for a United Nations (UN)-facilitated conference with Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the United States (US) “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”.

Blinken also calls for holding talks between the Afghan government and Taleban in a senior-level meeting in Turkey in the coming weeks to hammer out a revised proposal for a 90-day reduction in violence.

The Secretary of State has also called on special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to share with both the Afghan government and Taleban written proposals to help accelerate discussions, according to the TOLONews report.

Blinken also made clear in the letter that the Biden administration continues to consider a “full withdrawal” of the roughly 2,500 US forces in the country by the May 1 deadline negotiated by Trump administration.

The State Department declined to comment on the TOLONews report.

“We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1,” the State Department said in a statement. “All options remain on the table.”

Afghanistan presents one of the new administration’s most difficult foreign policy decisions.

The US public is weary of a war nearly 20-years-old, but pulling out now could be seen as giving the Taleban too much leverage and casting a shadow over the sacrifices made by US and coalition troops and Afghan civilians.

Blinken urged Ghani to quickly embrace the proposal and underscored his concern that the security situation in the country could quickly deteriorate as the weather warms in Afghanistan.

“Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the US to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and the Taleban could make rapid territorial gains,” Blinken wrote in the letter.