US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad arrived Islamabad on Sunday to commence a two-week peace mission that will take him to Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in efforts to end the long-running Afghan war.
In Kabul, the US State Department said Khalilzad would consult with the Afghan government and other Afghans. He is also expected to prolong talks with the Taliban in Doha, where the group has a political office. In between visits, Khalilzad will work to build international support for the Afghan peace process.
The talks so far have focused on a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as the Taliban guarantees that they won’t harbour terrorist groups or allow Afghanistan to be used as a staging ground for global terror attacks.
In a tweet, Khalilzad said he believes the peace process is progressing, even though the last round of talks ended with the two sides at apparent loggerheads over when the US might pull its troops from Afghanistan.
“We’ve made substantial progress over the last month. On this trip, I want to take that momentum and accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess,” he added.
(1/2) After two weeks in Washington, I'm back on the road. We've made substantial progress over the last month. On this trip, I want to take that momentum and accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess. https://t.co/wotKuurxfu
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) June 1, 2019
Khalilzad further added that he was optimistic about talks, and called for parties to show “flexibility.” He will speak with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha, where the two sides have repeatedly met.
The Taliban, however, has refused to negotiate directly with the Kabul government, and the group’s leader said on Saturday that they would not call a ceasefire any time soon.
In a rare and defiant message ahead of what would be the seventh round of negotiations, Taliban chief Haibatullah Akhundzada boasted foreign forces in Afghanistan are “condemned to defeat” ─ but said the insurgents would continue talks with the US.
Last year, the Taliban observed a three-day ceasefire over Eid and many Afghans ─ exhausted by decades of war and violence ─ had pinned their hopes on another truce this year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had proposed a nationwide ceasefire at the start of Ramazan early last month, but the Taliban rejected the offer.
With input from AFP, AP.