US envoy questions Afghan Taliban’s desire for peace

Published December 21, 2018
US Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's comments come says after his meeting with Taliban representatives. — File photo
US Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's comments come says after his meeting with Taliban representatives. — File photo

KABUL: US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad raised doubts on Thursday about the Taliban’s desire to end the 17-year war, after the militants refused to meet a Kabul-backed negotiating team.

While he was certain the Afghan government wanted to stop the conflict, Khalilzad told Ariana News that he questioned whether the Taliban were “genuinely seeking peace”.

“We have to wait and see their forthcoming steps,” he said, according to a translation of the interview provided by the US embassy in Kabul.

Khalilzad’s remarks to Afghan media following his latest face-to-face meeting with the Taliban echoed those expressed privately by some Western diplomats in the capital.

Saudi official hopeful talks held in UAE will yield ‘very positive’ results by the beginning of next year

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also attended the talks in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, which the United Arab Emirates hailed as “positive for all parties concerned”.

But the Taliban would not meet a 12-person Afghan delegation, Khalil­zad said, describing the decision as “wrong”.

“If the Taliban are really seeking peace, they have to sit with the Afghan government ultimately to reach an agreement on the future political settlement in Afghanistan,” he said.

However, the Saudi ambassador to Washington said that peace talks held in Abu Dhabi would yield “very positive results by the beginning of next year”.

Khalid bin Salman added on his Twitter account on Thursday that the talks were productive and would “help promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict”.

The Taliban have long refused to talk directly to the Afghan government, which they accuse of being a puppet of the United States.

In a message released on Tuesday the militants said they had held “preliminary talks” with Khalilzad on Monday. They also said they had held “extensive” meetings with officials from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, repeating demands for international forces to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Those three countries were the only ones to recognise the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime.

While US President Donald Trump wanted to end the war, Khalilzad told Tolo News that Washington’s “main objective” was to ensure Afghanistan did not pose a threat to the US in the future.

While ruling out a “pre-9/11 situation” in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said he had told the Taliban that “if the menace of terrorism is tackled, the United States is not looking for a permanent military presence” in the country.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2018

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