Khalilzad, Wells due today for talks on Afghan peace efforts

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US Special Representa­tive for Afghan Reconcilia­tion Zalmay Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, will be arriving the same day to participate in the negotiations. — Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons, AP/File
US Special Representa­tive for Afghan Reconcilia­tion Zalmay Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, will be arriving the same day to participate in the negotiations. — Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons, AP/File

ISLAMABAD: Another round of talks between Pakistan and the United States on Afghan peace process will start here from Monday (today).

US Special Representa­tive for Afghan Reconcilia­tion Zalmay Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, will be arriving the same day to participate in the negotiations.

According to the Foreign Office spokesman, the two sides will hold meetings as part of “regular consultation on bilateral relationship and Afghan peace process”.

Ambassador Khalilzad warned that there would be no enduring peace in Afghanistan unless the Taliban adapted to the changes that had swept the country since they were ousted in 2001, adds AFP.

Mr Khalilzad made the comments during a visit to Kabul on Sunday.

Speaking to Tolo News, he said the Taliban recognised their government “made a lot [of] mistakes” when it was in power from 1996 to 2001, and “they have learned a lot”.

“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war not peace,” said Afghan-born Khalilzad, speaking in Dari.

He has signalled progress in talks, which centre on the Taliban guaranteeing Afghanistan can never again be used as a springboard for foreign terror attacks, in return for an eventual withdrawal of foreign forces.

Mr Khalilzad is expected to meet with the Taliban in Doha in the coming days, but critics have lashed peace talks for so far failing to include members of the Afghan government, which the Taliban view as a puppet regime.

The special envoy said it was vital all parties communicated in an “intra-Afghan dialogue”. Such a meeting was supposed to take place in Doha this month but it collapsed amid squabbling about the size of the guest list.

“We have started discussion for the withdrawal of the [US] forces, but for the past few weeks my struggles were focused on providing a ground for intra-Afghan talks,” Mr Khalilzad said.

“That is the first step for further discussion, but there has been no proper progress yet,” he said, adding that Washington was “a bit impatient” to end the war, given its $45 billion annual cost to the US taxpayer and the continued toll it takes on US forces.

Washington wants “to put an end to their expenses in Afghanistan and the dangers the forces face but also Washington has a responsibility and wants to end this war responsibly and leave a good legacy,” Mr Khalilzad said.

The meetings between Pakistan and the US are believed to be quite significant in the backdrop of recent rounds of peace talks between the Taliban and the US in Qatar.

Media reports say Pakistan is playing a vital role in peace talks between the Taliban and the US.

Amb Khalilzad said on Friday Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stance on Afghanistan had the potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role.

Read: US envoy Khalilzad 'greatly appreciates' PM Imran's statement on Afghan peace

In a statement on Thursday, the prime minister underlined Pakistan’s unconditional support for Afghan peace process and urged the Taliban to call off their spring offensive.

“Greatly appreciate Imran Khan’s statement yesterday on Afghanistan,” Ambassador Khalilzad said in a tweet. “His appeal for reduction of violence and policy against promoting internal conflict in other nations has potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role,” he said.

Mr Khalilzad also attached to his tweet a link to PM Khan’s statement, which points out that the Afghan conflict has brought great suffering for both Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last 40 years.

The US envoy expressed similar views in a statement on Thursday, noting that recent civilian casualties in Afghanistan indicated that this war “has gone too long”.

About two weeks ago, the Taliban announced that they would start their spring offensive despite peace talks with the US.

Attacks are still reported targeting Afghan security forces and Nato troops causing casualties, of civilians also. Most recently, a Taliban attack near the main US air base in Afghanistan killed three Marines.

Two weeks ago an announcement from the Taliban instructed its fighters to launch “Jihadi operations with sincerity and pure intentions”.

The United Nations’s annual report earlier this year said civilian deaths had hit a record high last year, blaming the insurgents and other militants, such as the Islamic State militant group.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019