Jeff Seldin – Voice of America
WASHINGTON — A peace treaty to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan could usher in a new era of instability and erase many of the gains made by international reconstruction efforts, a key U.S. official cautioned Wednesday.
John Sopko, U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told reporters in Washington that while "we all want peace," there are concerns that the push for a deal will overshadow critical planning needed for any agreement to have a lasting impact.
"We've spent close to $1 trillion in Afghanistan," he said. "All of that is at risk if we screw up on the day after a peace agreement."
Sopko pointed to the Afghan government's dire financial situation, and its dependence on U.S. assistance to pay the salaries of the country's security forces, as a leading worry.
Recipe for 'Collapse'
"A dramatic decrease in not only [U.S. and coalition] troops but a dramatic decrease in financial support for the Afghan government will mean the collapse of the government," Sopko said.
"If the economy collapses or if they are not paid, if we withdraw the funding, you have 500,000-some troops and police who are trained and have weapons," he added. "You have 60,000 Taliban who are trained killers. They want to be reintegrated. Plan for that."
Inadequate planning could also affect some of the leading success stories from the reconstruction effort.
"There has been success with clinics, with education, women's issues," Sopko said. "All of that is at risk if we don't protect them in the peace negotiations."
Sopko's warning came as efforts to get peace talks back on track are ramping up.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, is traveling to the region this week, hoping to make progress on resolving differences between various Afghan groups and the Taliban, as well as to push ahead with direct U.S. negotiations with the Taliban.
Following a meeting Wednesday with European allies in London, Zalmay tweeted:
Participated in US-Europe Meeting on Supporting Peace in Afghanistan w/ UK, German, French, Italian, Norwegian & EU counterparts. We affirmed intl support for #AfghanPeaceProcess, urgency of getting intra-Afghan dialogue on track & need to reduce violence https://t.co/hn299VkTKw pic.twitter.com/ucEcw97eaf
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) April 24, 2019
Khalilzad is expected to be in Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian and Chinese diplomats, likewise aimed at accelerating the pace of talks with the Taliban.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban's Doha-based political spokesman, told VOA earlier this week that the group was eager to resume talks with the U.S.
But despite progress in two key areas — a potential withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign forces from Afghanistan and a Taliban promise that the country will not be used as a base for terror attacks — fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul has continued.
Yet the push for a settlement also seems to have exacerbated tensions between Kabul and Washington.
During a visit to Washington last month, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib slammed U.S. officials for pushing Kabul toward what he described as a glorified surrender for failing to protect some of the key gains.
"If this is a recipe for peace, we don't know what is a recipe for war," Mohib told reporters, adding that Khalilzad's efforts were "ostracizing and alienating" the Afghan people.
U.S. officials have since told the Afghan government they will no longer deal with Mohib.