WASHINGTON: US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has announced a major breakthrough in efforts for ending war in Afghanistan, saying that representatives of the Afghan government will participate in the Doha talks next week.
The Taliban also acknowledged this major development, saying that some Afghan government officials will participate in the talks but they will do so in their own personal capacities and not as state representatives.
Ambassador Khalilzad “discussed with (Afghan) President Ashraf Ghani and others how to ensure the intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha next week, in which representatives of the Afghan government and wide society will participate, can best advance our shared goal of accelerating a settlement process,” said a statement issued by his office on Sunday evening.
US-Taliban talks: As hopes rise of a deal, what comes next?
In a separate statement to various media outlets, the Taliban also said that the next US-Taliban meeting would be held in Doha in mid-April “within the framework” of previous peace talks. The United States and Taliban have already held six rounds of peace talks in Doha, Qatar.
Militant group confirms change in its stance
The Taliban insisted that the participants would only be sharing their own “views and policies” with others in the meeting. “If government- affiliated members do participate, they will be doing so in their own capacities and not as state representatives,” the statement added.
The statement also claimed that some Afghan officials had participated in previous meetings as well, but not as representatives of the Kabul government.
The statement marks the first acknowledgement from the militant group of its willingness to include the Afghan government in the peace talks and comes on the day a suicide-bomber attacked a US base near Bagram.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Khalilzad, who leads the US team in these talks, completed his 15-day visit to the region on Monday “following productive talks with President Ghani on accelerating a settlement process, reducing violence across Afghanistan, and supporting Afghan security forces if violence continues,” his office said.
He also discussed these topics with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, leaders of the High Peace Council and other prominent Afghans and was pleased to see “the Afghans with whom he met, inside and outside government, coming together to put peace first,” the statement added.
Ambassador Khalilzad underscored “the imperative of reducing violence across Afghanistan in the coming weeks and explored ways to build broader regional support for the effort to realise Afghan people’s yearning for peace,” his office said.
In a tweet released after his two-day visit to Islamabad this week, Ambassador Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for its “efforts for supporting the Afghan Peace Process and for “re-affirming the understanding that ultimately Afghans, and Afghans alone, will determine their future.
Always more work to be done”.
In another statement, Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged Pakistan’s role “in facilitating the travel of the Taliban’s negotiating team”, adding that he discussed with Pakistani leaders “how peace in Afghanistan will also benefit Pakistan and can unlock opportunities for regional economic integration and development.”
“The United States looks to Pakistan to continue playing a positive role in supporting the peace process,” the statement added.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2019