America has warned the Afghan president he may face a renewed Taliban spring onslaught without US troops, unless he considers urgent new proposals to try to jump start stalled negotiations.
A full withdrawal of American troop is still being mulled, despite Afghan hopes Joe Biden's arrival in the White House would see him halt the pull out, according to a leaked letter from the new secretary of state.
In what appeared to be a blunt attempt to pressure Ashraf Ghani, Antony Blinken wrote that without US troops he was concerned "the security situation will worsen and that the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains”. He called on Mr Ghani to show to show "urgent leadership" and he hoped the Afghan premier would "understand the urgency of my tone."
The veiled threat came amid intense American frustration that the year-long Doha negotiation process has gone almost nowhere, while a deadline to withdraw US troops is quickly approaching.
Mr Biden is currently reviewing whether to pull out all troops by May 1, as agreed in Donald Trump's withdrawal pact with the Taliban, or to extend the deployment to give peace talks more time to make progress.
Washington believes the Taliban have not kept their end of the deal by failing to cut violence and remaining close to al-Qaeda. But it has also become frustrated at intransigence in Kabul.
Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia director at the US-based Wilson Centre think tank, said: “In a sceptical reading of the letter, the US is reading Ghani the riot act: "Help us do these things now, because we may be leaving in just a few weeks."
In a more optimistic analysis, America was saying "This won't be easy. You'll need to make sacrifices. But let's get it done before it's too late", he said.
Afghanistan is braced for the start of the annual Taliban spring offensive as morale has plummeted in the Afghan forces. US troop numbers have already fallen from 14,000 a year ago to around 2,500 now, denying the beleaguered Afghan forces critical air strikes and surveillance drones. Troops have struggled to roll back Taliban offensives around Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in southern Afghanistan and roads between the major cities are increasingly hit by the Taliban.
According to the letter, the US is pursuing high-level diplomatic efforts "to move matters more fundamentally and quickly toward a settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire".
An international conference in Turkey will be held within weeks, assembling envoys from Iran, Pakistan, China and India to endorse an interim government featuring the Taliban.
Any transitional administration would probably spell the end of Mr Ghani's rule and the dismissal of an internationally-recognised government.
Mr Ghani's vice president, Amrullah Saleh, said on Monday that the country would "never accept a coerced and imposed peace"
Roland Kobia, the EU envoy to Afghanistan, also appeared to question the US approach, saying Afghanistan had its own constitution, elections and agreements.
“[Afghanistan] has the support of the vast majority of the international community and the world in UN security council, and Geneva has committed to protect its achievements republic.”
Washington also resorted to threats last year to try to get Mr Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to end their feud over a contested presidential election result. Mike Pompeo at the time cut $1bn of aid to Kabul after the two men held rival inaugurations.