US to restart talks with Taliban in Qatar

Published December 5, 2019
Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani, a senior Afghan official said, less than a week after Mr Trump visited Afghanistan and gave his blessing for a return to negotiations. 
— Reuters/File
Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani, a senior Afghan official said, less than a week after Mr Trump visited Afghanistan and gave his blessing for a return to negotiations. — Reuters/File

KABUL: The US negotiator on Afghanistan would shortly resume talks with the Taliban and seek efforts toward a ceasefire, officials said on Wednesday, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly halted diplomatic efforts that could end America’s longest war.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani, a senior Afghan official said, less than a week after Mr Trump visited Afghanistan and gave his blessing for a return to negotiations.

The State Department said that Mr Khalilzad, a veteran US negotiator who was born in Afghanistan, would head to Qatar to meet the Taliban after his meetings in Kabul.

In a nod to concerns raised by Mr Ghani, the State Department voiced support for a ceasefire — which the Taliban have long rejected and did not figure in a draft accord that Mr Khalilzad earlier reached with the Islamist insurgents.

“Ambassador Khalilzad will rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire,” a State Department statement said.

In September, the United States and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin pulling thousands of troops out of Afghanistan in return for promises to keep out foreign extremists.

It was also expected to pave the way toward direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.

But that same month, President Trump abruptly called the year-long effort “dead” and withdrew an invitation to the Taliban to meet in the United States after the killing of an American soldier.

During a surprise visit to an American military base in Afghanistan last week, Mr Trump said the Taliban “wants to make a deal”. But the insurgents later said it was “way too early” to speak of resuming direct talks with Washington.

The Taliban have descri­bed the Afghan government as illegitimate and steadfastly refused any halt in their campaign of violence, which they see as leverage.

But even during the stall in talks, Mr Khalilzad has seen signs that the Taliban are ready to cooperate. He recently helped arrange a prisoner swap in which the Taliban released two academics, from the US and Australia.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2019

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