US envoy, Taliban negotiators express commitment to Doha accord

Published March 7, 2021
In this Feb 2020 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, shake hands after signing an agreement at a ceremony between members of Afghanistan's Taliban and the US in Doha. — Reuters
In this Feb 2020 file photo, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, and Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for peace in Afghanistan, shake hands after signing an agreement at a ceremony between members of Afghanistan's Taliban and the US in Doha. — Reuters

DOHA: Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan met Taliban negotiators in Qatar, the insurgents said on Saturday, as efforts are intensified to revive a peace process that faces mounting violence and a US troop withdrawal deadline.

The US envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks in Kabul recently with Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation that oversees the government’s talks with the insurgents in Qatar.

Taliban spokesman Muhamad Naeem tweeted that Khalilzad and the top US general in Afghanistan met the insurgents’ negotiating team in Doha, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, late on Friday.

“Both sides expressed their commitment to the Doha agreement and discussed its full implementation. Likewise, the current situation in Afghanistan and the pace and effectiveness of the Intra-Afghan negotiations were discussed,” he wrote.

Speculation is rife over the future of Afghanistan, after the White House announced plans to review a withdrawal deal brokered by Khalilzad and the Taliban in Doha last year.

President Ghani says his government is ready for talks on fresh elections

Under that agreement, the US is set to withdraw from the war-torn country in May, but a surge in fighting has sparked concerns that a speedy exit may unleash greater chaos as peace talks between the Kabul government and Taliban continue to stall.

The accord states that the US will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, with the Taliban promising not to allow territory to be used by terrorists — the original goal of the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

Khalilzad’s visit marks the first time he has publicly returned to Qatar since US President Joe Biden took office in January and asked him to stay on in his post.

Meanwhile, President Ghani said on Saturday that in a bid to push forward the peace talks his government was ready to discuss holding fresh elections, insisting that any new government should emerge through the democratic process.

“Transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,” he told lawmakers at the opening of parliament session in Kabul.

“We stand ready to discuss holding free, fair and inclusive elections under the auspices of international community. We can also talk about the date of the elections and reach a conclusion,” Ghani said.

Afghan officials and western diplomats said that during his recent visit to Kabul, Khalilzad had floated the idea of establishing an interim government after bringing Afghan leaders and Taliban leaders together for a multilateral conference outside the country.

However, President Ghani said the only way to form a government should be through an election. “I advise those who go to this or that gate to gain power is that political power in Afghanistan has a gate, and the key is the vote of the Afghan people,” he said.

“Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan. These papers have been written in the past and will be written in the future. Our guarantee is our constitution.”

Elected two years ago, Ghani is not yet midway through his five-year term.

Violence and targeted killings have surged since the Afghan government began US-backed negotiations with the Taliban last September, and western security officials say the insurgents, already holding large swathes of rural areas, have begun to gain ground around towns and cities.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021

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