KABUL: Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy who led talks with the Taliban until negotiations collapsed last month, was in Kabul on Sunday meeting with top Afghan officials including President Ashraf Ghani.
His visit comes amid speculation the US is attempting to restart the effort to end America’s longest war, after President Donald Trump last month declared talks “dead”.
Khalilzad’s arrival in the Afghan capital coincided with the announcement that preliminary results from recent presidential elections would be delayed for nearly a month, a lengthy postponement likely to stoke political uncertainty and fraud allegations.
“Khalilzad met the president and briefed him about his recent activities,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said. “His viewpoints and the stance of the Afghan government for peace were discussed.”
“The aim of his visit is clear, to report to President Ghani on his recent visits and meetings in some countries regarding the Afghan peace process,” an official in Ghani’s office said. An Afghan politician confirmed that Khalilzad was in Kabul.
Sayed Hamid Gailani, leader of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, posted on his Twitter account that he had met Khalilzad and his team to discuss the country’s presidential elections and the peace efforts.
The US embassy in Kabul declined requests for comment, but officials said Khalilzad could next stop in Pakistan, which he also visited earlier this month and met informally the Taliban representatives.
Ahead of that visit, a senior Taliban source in Pakistan said the group had not “backtracked” from the talks, suggesting the ball was in America’s court for how things might proceed.
Experts say the US may want to resume its quest to pull troops out of Afghanistan, but first wants to see some sort of Taliban concession — such as a reduction in violence.
Ghani, whose government was cut out of negotiations, had sharply criticised the draft deal that was thought to be on the verge of completion following a year of negotiations.
Afghans went to the polls for a first-round vote on Sept 28, and initial results were supposed to have been released on Oct 19. But more than a week after saying the Independent Election Commission would miss that deadline, commission chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani said the results now would not be released until Nov 14.
Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2019