Khalilzad to visit Pakistan before finalising Taliban peace accord

Frederick Owens
February 11, 2019

Khalilzad, who returned to the USA from nearly a month-long peace mission to South Asia and the Middle East, said on Friday that he had discussed conditions for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan with the Taliban, but there had been no agreement on this issue yet, Dawn news reported.

He described the present state of negotiations as having taken two or three steps on a long journey.

Pakistan, he said, favours inter-Afghan dialogue including between the Taliban and the government.

The United States boasts a roughly 14,000-troop force in Afghanistan largely working to train and advise the government's security forces as they battle the Taliban for population control in a war long characterized by top US military and Afghan officials as a stalemate.

And this can not be achieved without the help of regional players, in particular Pakistan, Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said in his maiden public appearance before a Washington audience some six months after he was entrusted with this task by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It also rejected the key condition for peace set by the Taliban: the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

"We will not just rely on people's words", he said, adding that there would have to be "enforcement mechanisms", which he did not define. The ex-president also said he would like to see all foreign troops withdrawing from his country "as soon as possible", even though he admitted that it would likely be a "very hard process".

Khalilzad was a major player in George W. Bush's administration when the United States first invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

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Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who has spoken extensively with the Taleban in recent weeks, also stressed that any United States troop withdrawal would be dependent on conditions on the ground, and not on any particular timetable.

"It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July", Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said, adding that there remained "a lot of work" to do.

The military strategy, devised by General Austin Miller, the current commander of the American-led mission in Afghanistan, is similar to past attempts to bleed the militant group, the report said. "The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country", he said. "It will take time for the Taliban to appreciate that, but the message they have given to me is that they understand that they can not go back".

The US can not be a substitute for decisions that they must make.

Noting that Mullah Baradar, now based in Doha, was already facilitating the US-Taliban talks, the US envoy said that his role had also been recognised by former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and his successor President Ashraf Ghani. Taliban officials alleged publicly this week that the United States had agreed to remove half of its troops from Afghanistan by May, a statement Khalilzad called false.

In contrast, his assessment of the 18-year US-led military campaign in Afghanistan was far less positive.

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