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US, Russia seeking UN travel waivers for Taliban

Updated February 23, 2019

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The United States and Russia have agreed to explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks, a US envoy said on Friday. — Reuters
The United States and Russia have agreed to explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks, a US envoy said on Friday. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: The United States and Russia have agreed to explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks, a US envoy said on Friday.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted that the issue was discussed at a meeting he had with his Russian counterpart Zamir Kabulov in Ankara on Friday.

“We agreed that all-inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue is essential to advance peace efforts,” he wrote. “We will explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks.”

According to these tweets, the US and Russian peace envoys also agreed that to “move forward, Afghans should name a unified, inclusive & national negotiating team that includes the Afghan government and other Afghans.”

The two envoys also agreed that any final agreement in Afghanistan “must guarantee that Afghan soil is never used” by international terrorists against any country. The talks also focused on “a potential regional framework to coordinate efforts for peace and deter spoilers,” Mr Khalilzad said.

Ambassador Khalilzad leads the US team, which is negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban. The two sides have already held three meetings in Doha, Qatar.

Afghan politician General Abdul Rashid Dostum also met Mr Khalilzad in Ankara on February 20.

Earlier this month, the Taliban announced that they wanted the next meeting in Islamabad sometimes this month but could not do so because their leaders did not have travel documents.

The next round of US-Taliban talks is now scheduled in Doha on Feb 25, although Mr Khalilzad is likely to visit Islamabad before the talks to consult Pakistani leaders who have played a key role in persuading the Taliban to participate in the dialogue.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban co-founder who now leads their political office in Doha, will supervise the Taliban team. Pakistan set him free on Oct 25, 2018 on Ambassador Khalilzad’s request to facilitate the Afghan peace talks.

Russia, which recently held a meeting of all Afghan factions in Moscow, is reasserting itself as a major played in Afghanistan, a country it was forced to leave in 1989 after 10 years of war. The US-backed government was not invited to the Moscow talks.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019