While the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic, Afghanistan and the US are deeply engaged in negotiations to bring peace back to the war-torn nation.
The Afghanistan government received a major jolt when Washington decided to analyse its association with the country due to internal bickering between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah. The development came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to break a deadlock between Ghani and Abdullah.
Ashraf Ghani, who is Afghan president since 2014, was named the winner in recently held elections by a thin margin. His rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was part of the unity government earlier, declared himself victorious, laying claims to Presidency.
In order to bridge the rift between Ghani and Abdullah, Pompeo travelled to Kabul and held extensive meetings with both the leaders but couldn’t broker an agreement. On his return to Washington, Pompeo announced a sharp statement, threatening to walk away from Afghanistan.
“The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens,” said a State Department statement.
It said the US “is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests”. “Their failure has crippled the US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.”
As this leadership failure poses a direct threat to US interests, effective immediately, Washington will initiate a review of the scope of our cooperation with Afghanistan, the statement noted. “Among other steps, we are today announcing a responsible adjustment to our spending in Afghanistan and immediately reducing assistance by $1 billion this year. We are prepared to reduce by another $1 billion in 2021,” Pompeo said.
“We will also initiate a review of all of our programs and projects to identify additional reductions, and reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan,” he added. “We have made clear to the leadership that we will not back security operations that are politically motivated, nor support political leaders who order such operations or those who advocate for or support the parallel government,” he said.
The Afghan government, post the US-Taliban deal and before the intra-Afghan dialogue were to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while insurgents were also set to free 1,000 Afghan security personnel. President Ghani, however, agreed to free only 1,500 Taliban prisoners in the initial phase while linking the release of the remaining inmates with the start of intra-Afghan talks as well as reduction of violence by the Taliban.
Pompeo said the United States remains convinced that a political settlement is the only solution to the conflict. “We note that Afghan leaders are acting inconsistently with their commitments under the Joint Declaration, chiefly failing to establish an inclusive national team to participate in intra-Afghan negotiations or take practical steps to facilitate prisoner releases by both sides as a confidence-building measure to reach a political settlement and achieve a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
“We are proceeding with the conditions-based withdrawal of our forces in accordance with the US-Taliban agreement,” the statement said in a clear warning that the Trump administration is ready to walk away from the war-torn country even if the Afghan government and other players are not ready to abide by the deal.
However, the US left the room open for reviewing its strategy.
“Should Afghan leaders choose to form an inclusive government that can provide security and participate in the peace process, the United States is prepared to support these efforts and revisit the reviews initiated today,” the statement further said.
Pompeo also made it clear that the United States is not abandoning “our partnership with Afghanistan, nor our commitment to support the Afghan security forces, but reviewing the scope of our cooperation given the irresponsible actions of Afghan leaders”.