WASHINGTON: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad left Washington on Sunday on yet another peace mission that includes talks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Qatar.
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.
In Washington, the US State Department said Ambassador Khalilzad and his interagency delegation would also consult officials in Belgium, Germany and Turkey before arriving in the region for further talks. The trip, which began on Sunday, will continue till Feb 28, when the chief US negotiator is expected back in Washington for consultations.
The State Department said the 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”. Ambassador Khalilzad will meet “our allies and partners to discuss mutual efforts to advance that goal and will consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip”, the statement added.
President Ghani asks Taliban to open office in Afghanistan
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”.
During a visit to the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Sunday, President Ghani said he was offering the Taliban an office in Afghanistan because he wanted the peace talks to be held on the Afghan soil. The Afghan president has already made several attempts to engage the Taliban, but the insurgents continue to refuse to hold directs talks his government.
He said he had previously offered the Taliban to meet Afghan officials in Makkah to sanctify the peace talks but instead they went to Moscow. “The nation says that they did not go to Makkah but they went to Moscow and they want to know why,” he added.
Mr Ghani said he was expected to give up his position for peace but he could not do so because he was elected to this post and he did not want to compromise those who voted for him. He is seeking re-election in July.
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.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019