By Ayaz Gul
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged Tuesday to consult and share with NATO allies Washington’s plans on any possible military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Washington has committed to pulling out its remaining 2,500 troops and several thousand NATO forces from the war-shattered South Asian nation by May 1. The deadline is outlined in a February 2020 agreement that then-President Donald Trump’s administration signed with the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
“We went in together, we have adjusted together and when the time is right we will leave together,” Blinken told reporters in Brussels when asked what he would tell his NATO partners about U.S. plans for Afghanistan.
NATO foreign ministers have gathered at the military alliance’s headquarters to spend the next two days discussing the way forward in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, while reacting to Blinken’s remarks, told VOA the insurgent group expects the U.S. to honor and fully implement the deal.
“It is clearly stated in the agreement that America will withdraw all its troops (from Afghanistan) by May 1, and we again ask them to strictly adhere to the mutually agreed deadline,” Mujahid said.
“In case Americans do not meet their obligations and abandon the agreement, the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) will be forced to defend their nation and consider all other options to force foreign troops out of the country,” Mujahid said. He did not elaborate.
Blinken in his talk Tuesday reiterated that the U.S.-Taliban deal was still being reviewed by President Joe Biden’s administration and that he will “share some of our initial thinking” with NATO allies to “listen and consult” with them.
“Last week, President Biden noted that it would be tough to meet the May 1 deadline for a full withdrawal; but whatever the United States ends up doing will be informed by the thinking of our NATO allies, which I’ll take back to me after these conversations and consultations,” said Blinken.
“Tactical decisions aside, we are united with our NATO allies in seeking to bring a responsible end to this conflict and to remove our troops from harm’s way just as we are collectively determined to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who could threaten the United States or our allies,” he added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking alongside Blinken, supported and welcomed the Biden administration’s renewed efforts to push the Taliban and the Afghan government into a power-sharing peace deal to ensure Afghanistan does not collapse into greater violence and chaos after the foreign troop pullout.
“The challenge now is that we have peace talks and we strongly welcome them. They are fragile but they are the only path to a lasting political solution in Afghanistan…and to achieve that, all parties need to negotiate in good faith,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief stressed the need for reducing Afghan violence and urged the Taliban to “stop supporting international terrorists, including (the) al-Qaida (network).”
The U.S.-Taliban pact encouraged the insurgents to open the first direct talks with representatives of the Afghan government in Doha last September to try to agree on a political deal that would end the nearly two decades of war.
But the so-called intra-Afghan peace dialogue has made little progress and remained stalled for most of the time, with both Afghan rivals accusing each other of delays.
Blinken said in a strongly-worded letter to Ghani earlier this month it is urgent that the Afghan government accelerate the peace process.
He warned that even if the U.S. financial assistance of around $4 billion continued for Kabul to help sustain Afghan security forces after the foreign troop withdrawal, the Taliban would make rapid territorial gains.
In a weekly commentary published on its official website Tuesday, the Taliban group said it has “fulfilled all its responsibilities” outlined in the agreement” signed with the U.S. in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in February 2020.
“We hope that the other parties, be they foreign or internal, also remain committed to the Doha agreement so that the process of intra-Afghan negotiations may arrive at a successful destination through following this roadmap,” said the insurgent statement.
The Taliban reject allegations they maintain ties with transnational terror groups. Taliban leaders have ignored international calls for reducing battlefield attacks in Afghanistan until they strike a power-sharing agreement with Afghan rivals that would see formation of an “Islamic government” in the country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has long resisted relinquishing power in favor of a transitional government, saying he will transfer power only through elections. The Taliban reject the Ghani administration as an illegal entity and a product of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.