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Nato defence chiefs to review Afghan peace efforts

Updated February 13, 2019

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Defence ministers from 29 Nato countries to meet in Brussels today to assure Afghanistan of continued support. ─ AFP/File
Defence ministers from 29 Nato countries to meet in Brussels today to assure Afghanistan of continued support. ─ AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Defence ministers from 29 Nato countries will meet in Brussels on Wednesday to assure Afghanistan that the world’s most powerful military alliance will continue to support Afghan security forces to “create the conditions for a peaceful solution.”

The US defence chief Patrick M. Shanahan also delivered a similar message to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at a meeting in Kabul on Tuesday.

But both messages, one issued in Brussels and the other in Washington, emphasised the need to find a negotiated settlement to the 17-year old conflict, clearly indicating a shift from military operations to peace talks.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was also in Brussels on Tuesday where he briefed Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other officials on US-Taliban talks. From Brussels, Ambassador Khalilzad flies to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Qatar to continue his peace mission which, according to a diplomatic observer in Washington, is “tantalizingly close” to ending the Afghan war..

At a pre-conference news briefing in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Stoltenberg acknowledged that “the situation remains difficult” in Afghanistan but “we also see efforts for peace.”

Nato, which contributes both troops and funds to the US-led military mission in Afghanistan, also appears keen on ending this conflict, which is the alliance’s and America’s longest military engagement.

“We continue to consult on the implications of a possible peace deal and how Nato can support it,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “Yesterday we met Ambassador Khalilzad. This is the third time in the last few weeks we meet with him.”

Despite these regular updates, the Nato chief was reluctant to say if the US-led efforts would actually lead to an agreement between the United States and the Taliban. “It is too early to say if there will be a deal,” he said.

“What is clear is this: we went into Afghanistan together, and together we will determine our future posture, based on conditions we determine with the Afghans.”

The meeting begins on Wednesday but Afghanistan will be discussed on the second day of the two-day meeting, which will review Nato’s “missions and operations” in Afghanistan, said a Nato press release.

Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who concluded an unannounced two-day visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday, is expected to brief the Nato meeting on the latest situation in the Central Asian country.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2019