Frustrated by a stalled peace process and escalating violence, the U.S. has presented an eight-page draft peace agreement to Afghanistan's warring sides for review.
The U.S. told the parties to come to Turkey in the coming weeks ready to move on it, according to Afghans on both sides of the table.
The draft was obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. The document outlines the terms of a cease-fire and its enforcement, calls for the protection of the rights of women, children and minorities and envisions a truth and reconciliation commission aimed at healing 42 years of conflict.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price would not confirm the draft, saying “It’s often important for our diplomatic efforts that we’re able to conduct them in private."
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The Taliban received the draft and were reviewing it, said spokesman Mohammad Naeem.
There was no immediate comment from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the draft proposal or a sternly worded letter from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
In the letter, Blinken said Washington wanted to see progress on peace talks and mentioned the draft peace agreement, which calls for a new, inclusive government — which Ghani has resisted. In recent speeches, Ghani has said no interim government would be formed “as long as I am alive.”
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But Blinken was uncompromising in his letter, which was released by Afghanistan’s TOLO TV. “I am making this clear to you so that you understand the urgency of my tone regarding collective work,” he wrote.
In the letter, Blinken said a May 1 deadline for a final withdrawal of U.S. troops — stipulated in a Taliban-U.S. deal last year — is still on the table. Even with America’s $4 billion in aid to Afghanistan’s National Security Forces, a U.S. withdrawal could mean quick territorial gains for the Taliban.
Ghani's first vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said the president had received the letter and was unmoved by its contents. He said Ghani was not ready to embrace the secretary of state's accelerated pace toward a settlement.
“We are neither concerned about the letter nor has it changed our position,” Saleh said. He thanked the U.S. for its sacrifices and financial assistance over the past 20 years but said the Afghan government won't succumb to dictation.
"We will make peace with dignity, but never . . .an imposed peace,” he said at a ceremony on the anniversary of the death of a former defense minister. Ghani has been accused by his political opponents of trying to cling to power at all cost.
Fawzia Koofi, one of only four women at the negotiation table in Doha, warned against haste and a May 1 withdrawal of U.S. troops, saying it would cause chaos. She confirmed that all sides had received the U.S.-crafted draft agreement.
“One thing that is important is that Afghan ownership and Afghan leadership must be respected,” she said in a phone interview from Doha. “The process should not be rushed.”
Blinken's letter proposes a revised plan for a 90-day reduction in violence that would prevent the start of a spring offensive by the Taliban and would be followed by a permanent cease-fire laid out in the draft peace agreement.
Both sides would stop fighting within hours of the agreement being signed, according to the draft. The Taliban would remove all its military and military structures from neighboring countries — a reference to Pakistan, where the leadership currently resides. The draft agreement also calls for an independent commission to oversee cease-fire violations.
The preamble of the U.S. document says the draft peace agreement is intended to jump-start negotiations.
“It sets forth principles for governance, security, and rule of law and presents options for power sharing that could help the two sides reach a political settlement that ends the war,” it says.
The preamble portrayed the draft as a compilation of “ideas and priorities” of Afghans on all sides of the political spectrum.
The draft lays out an ambitious road map that protects the rights of all, guarantees elections, demands transparency and a fight against corruption and the illicit drug trade. It demands guarantees of non-interference from Afghanistan's neighbors and guarantees from Afghanistan that the country won't be used to attack or interfere with another.
It proposes the establishment of a “peace government” that would oversee the writing of a new constitution and elections held immediately afterward. The new constitution is to protect the rights gained in the last 20 years since the toppling of the Taliban.
According to the draft, the peace government would include separate, but equal branches, including the judiciary, and executive branch.
The draft also said there will be one national government, no parallel governments and no parallel security forces, which would mean an end to Taliban fighters and the many militias loyal to warlords holding sway in Kabul.
It promises to protect Islamic values and while an independent judiciary would have the ultimate authority, the High Council for Islamic Jurisprudence would have an advisory role.
“The new peace plan offers a chance for a cease-fire, it offers a chance to bring the Taliban from the battlefield to the talks table to discuss thorny issues of religion and its role in (the state),” without giving them all the power, said Torek Farhadi, former Afghan government adviser.
“Afghanistan is bordering on a failed state status and is sure to enter the category immediately after the withdrawal of the foreign forces absent a better political arrangement,” he said, “ That is the reality of Afghanistan.”
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington and Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.