Special US envoy begins 6-nation tour for ‘intra-Afghan’ dialogue

  • Zalmay Khalilzad travels to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
  • Top Pentagon chief arrives in Kabul amid a push for peace with the militant group
World

WASHINGTON – US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has left Washington, leading an inter-agency delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan from February 10-28.

The US Department of State said in a statement that Khalilzad’s trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects US national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country’s future.

The envoy will meet with US allies and partners including Belgium, Germany and Turkey to discuss mutual efforts to advance that goal and will consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip, the statement added.

The 6-nation trip, which began on Sunday, will continue till Feb 28, when the chief US negotiator is expected back in Washington for consultations.

Us holding constructive talks with different groups in Afghanistan: Trump

Khalilzad has made several trips to regional countries in quest for Afghan peace after being appointed US special envoy for Afghan peace in September last year.

He has held talks with the Taliban with the latest round in Qatar in January. The next round of talks is expected to be held in the same venue on February 25.

Khalilzad has said that the sides agreed to a framework of a peace deal that would require the Taliban to prevent use of Afghanistan by terrorists and US to withdraw its troops from the country.

On Sunday, Khalilzad said that he consulted with colleagues across the US government on the progress “we‘re making in facilitating the Afghan peace process.”

“We’re working hand in hand on peace and security,” he said.

The US envoy said at a Washington think tank on Friday that Pakistan had played a positive rule in facilitating peace talks and also released a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Baradar, at his request. He said the US administration recognised Pakistan’s role and wanted better relations with this “important country”.

Although the Afghan government was kept out of the Moscow talks held last week, an official from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council said that some parts of the Moscow resolution would be added to their agenda.

The resolution includes a demand for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, support to Doha talks, removing Taliban members from the UN blacklist, the release of their prisoners and legitimising Taliban’s Qatar office.

TALIBAN ‘PREFER TO STAY IN DOHA OFFICE’

Also on Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban were welcome to open an office in Kabul, Kandahar or Nangarhar to continue the peace talks that have so far been held in Doha, Qatar.

But a Taliban spokesman later told reporters that they would prefer to stay in Doha, where they have had an office since 2013, and would try to get international recognition of this outpost.

PENTAGON CHIEF ON FIRST VISIT TO AFGHANISTAN

Meanwhile on Monday, US Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced trip to meet with military commanders and Afghan officials.

Shanahan told reporters traveling with him that he will stress in talks with Afghan leaders that they will be the ones to ultimately decide their future, including the final nature of any potential peace with the Taliban.

Shanahan also said he has no instructions from the White House to reduce the troop level in Afghanistan from the current 14,000.

Reports have circulated that President Donald Trump is looking to cut about half of the force as part of efforts to reduce US military involvement in the region.

Trump has already said he is pulling out all 2,000 US troops in Syria, where they have been aiding a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against the Islamic State and other insurgent groups.

It was not immediately clear if Shanahan and Khalilzad would be conducting joint discussions during their trips.

This is Shanahan’s first visit to Afghanistan since he assumed the post of the acting US Secretary of Defense.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan 17 years ago and the war with the Taliban has since killed nearly 150,000 people, including Afghan civilians, security forces, insurgents and more than 2,400 American soldiers, according to an American University study released recently.

The longest war effort in US history has also cost Washington nearly one trillion dollars. The Taliban has expanded its insurgent activities and currently controls or hotly contests about half of Afghanistan. The conflict is said to have killed more Afghan civilians and security forces in 2018 than in any other year.