April 9, 2016
KABUL—The U.S. and Afghanistan are urging the Taliban to return to peace talks with the Afghan government.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited Kabul Saturday for talks with Afghan leaders, said the Taliban’s participation in the peace process could help end the violence and suffering that the Afghan people have endured during years of war.
At a joint news conference in Kabul, Kerry and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani discussed a wide range of issues, looking ahead to a NATO summit in Warsaw in July that will review the status of Afghan security forces, and also a conference on development aid to be held later this year in Brussels.
More troop cuts
President Barack Obama has said he plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 9,800 to 5,500 by next year, but other recent reports predict that goal will be delayed. Kerry said Obama will rely on input from American military commanders in Afghanistan before making a final determination about troop cuts.
Bilateral commission talks
Earlier Saturday, Kerry and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani presided at a meeting of the commission the two countries established to help Afghanistan’s post-war development into “a strong, stable, democratic and self-reliant state.”
Rabbani said the Kabul government is making every effort to advance peace and reconciliation, but that can only happen if the Taliban comes back to the negotiating table.
“We believe the international community can help encourage key actors in the region to have the Taliban group engage in direct talks with the Afghan government,” the foreign minister said.
The so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group — the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China — has been trying to get peace talks moving, but Taliban representatives refused to take any part in the most recent effort, shortly before it was to begin last month.
A lengthy and wide-ranging statement by the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission stressed the two countries’ “respect for human rights, the rules of law and democratic values.” They pledged continuing cooperation and said three working groups would continue to meet on defense and security; democracy and governance; and economic and social development.
Kerry highlighted Afghanistan’s need for peace and security.
“When lasting and historic change is the goal, there are no opportunities to relax,” the top U.S. diplomat said. “When you have terrorists who are attempting to stop that work, stand in the way of that work, limit its success or even turn the clock backwards, obviously there is no time to relax.”
US support to national unity government
Another goal for Kerry’s visit was to show continued U.S. support for Afghanistan’s national unity government.
Kerry helped broker the deal that produced the power-sharing arrangement between President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who is Afghanistan’s “chief executive,” with powers equal to that of the president. The unity agreement emerged after bitter disputes over results of the 2014 presidential election, which Abdullah asserted he would have won, but for electoral fraud.
The president/chief executive arrangement will continue, Kerry said, adding: “There is no end to this agreement at the end of two years, or six months from now. This is an agreement for a unity government, the duration of which is five years.”
True national unity has been an elusive goal, however, and Afghanistan’s people appear to be deeply dissatisfied with their government.
Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan was part of a week-long trip to the Middle East and Asia that also included an unannounced stop in Baghdad. He is now enroute to Japan, where he will attend a G-7 ministerial meeting and visit a World War II memorial.