The United States special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has concluded two days of official discussions in Pakistan on how to advance the Afghan peace process.
Officials said Khalilzad arrived Monday in Islamabad and led delegation-level talks with senior foreign ministry officials before meeting Pakistani military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other military leaders. He was accompanied in these meetings by senior State Department diplomat for the region, Alice Wells.
“Ambassador Khalilzad requested and received support for the need to accelerate intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations as well as a reduction in violence, concrete steps necessary for a comprehensive settlement,” the U.S. embassy noted Tuesday in a post-visit statement.
The Afghan-born American diplomat heads a team of U.S. negotiators who have held several rounds of direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar since late last summer to encourage the insurgent group to engage in Afghan-to-Afghan talks for finding a political settlement to the 17-year-old war in the country. Both sides have acknowledged the dialogue is making steady progress.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated Tuesday his country has arranged the U.S.-Taliban dialogue by bringing insurgent leaders to the negotiating table to assist in international efforts to establish lasting peace in Afghanistan.
“The progress achieved so far as a result of the ongoing peace process is a welcome development,” Qureshi told an unofficial meeting of Pakistani and Afghan experts in Islamabad.
“Pakistan has rendered its full support to direct talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. We hope that the talks … will lead to a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue, which is essential for sustainable peace in Afghanistan,” he stressed.
An intra-Afghan meeting, involving the Taliban, was scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital of Doha on April 20. But a dispute about who should participate and in what capacity prompted the Taliban to pull out at the last minute.
Qureshi lamented the cancellation of the talks was an unfortunate development.
“Intra-Afghan dialogue holds the key to the Afghan peace process. We hope that the meeting will be held at an early date,” he said.
The foreign minister, who was out of the country during Khalilzad’s presence in Islamabad, noted that in his previous meetings with the U.S. reconciliation envoy, both sides agreed that “we cannot afford to miss this opportunity of peace in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan is believed to have long maintained close ties to the Taliban amid Afghan allegations insurgent leaders are allowed to use the neighbouring country for orchestrating cross-border attacks. Islamabad rejects the charges.
US Troop Withdrawal
Khalilzad has acknowledged that in his meetings with the Taliban in early March, both sides had drafted a preliminary agreement on how and when U.S.-led foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan in return for insurgent assurances that transnational terrorist groups will not be allowed to again use the country as a sanctuary.
The chief American negotiator, who is scheduled to hold another round of discussions with Taliban representatives in coming days, has linked a final agreement to cessation of hostilities by the Taliban and their participation in intra-Afghan talks.
The Taliban refuses to stop the fighting and insists it will not engage in any Afghan-to-Afghan talks until Washington finalizes and announces a troop drawdown agreement.