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US seeks Pak help for wooing Taliban to talks

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April 29, 2019

ISLAMABAD: US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, South and Central Asia Alice Wells will arrive in Islamabad today (Monday) as part of renewed efforts to seek Pakistan’s help to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table for the stalled Afghan peace dialogue in Qatar.

Khalilzad was last in Islamabad in early April. Khalilzad says his visit to the region is in line with the US efforts to end the war in Afghanistan and this specific trip would go towards building on international support for the Afghan peace process to push Afghan parties forward on dialogue and negotiations. Both Pakistan and the United States have condemned the recent attacks by the Taliban inside Afghanistan, saying the conflict would not help anyone. Pakistan has stated that it will not be party to any internal conflict in Afghanistan anymore while cautioning the Taliban that it is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion.

The United States says it challenges the Taliban to join other Afghans and work to make it the year of peace. “Ambassador Khalilzad and Ambassador Wells will hold meetings -- part of regular consultations, on bilateral relationship and Afghan peace process,” the Foreign Office announced on Sunday.

Before heading for Pakistan, Khalilzad had in a Tweet said that he had greatly appreciated the recent statement of Prime Minister Imran Khan in which the latter called for an end to the conflict inside Afghanistan.

“Greatly appreciate PM Imran Khan’s statement yesterday on Afghanistan. His appeal for reduction of violence and policy against promoting internal conflict in other nations has potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role,” he said.

Two points that the Taliban insist upon have not only stalled the intra-Afghan dialogue but also caused confusion in the ongoing talks between the Taliban and the United States.

The Taliban refuse to give a timeframe or bring total ceasefire inside Afghanistan on the agenda for talks and they also want more say in which Afghans should be part of the intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar.

To this, Khalilzad said recently, “The Taliban say ‘a ceasefire is not part of the agenda’. For us, peace is the agenda. The Afghan people have had enough violence and want an end to the war. The United States stands with them.”

Imran Khan had recently in a statement said that the Afghanistan conflict has brought great suffering for both Afghanistan and Pakistan over last 40 years.

“Now, after a long wait, the Afghanistan peace process presents a historic opportunity for peace in the region and Pakistan is fully supporting the process including the next logical step of intra-Afghan dialogue wherein Afghans will themselves decide upon the future of their country,” he had said.

Pakistan, he said, was highly dismayed by the surge of violence in Afghanistan from all sides.

“The so called offensives are condemnable and will undermine the peace process. It is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion. Pakistan implores all parties to recognize the importance of the moment and seize it. Pakistan has committed all diplomatic and security capital to success of peace process”, Imran Khan added.

While Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to push the Taliban to start talks again, Khalilzad remains optimistic as he said recently, “A bump in the road isn't reason to slow down.”

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad said any peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the country’s long war.

In an interview with Tolo News, Khalilzad said the Taliban’s demands were focused on the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

“Our focus is on terrorism. No agreement will be done if we don’t see a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war,” said Khalilzad. “We are seeking peace and (a) political settlement ... We want peace to give us the possibility to withdraw,” he added.

The Afghan-born US diplomat arrived in Kabul on Saturday to meet President Ashraf Ghani, part of a multi-country tour ahead of his next meeting with the Taliban in Qatar.

Before Khalilzad embarked on his tour, the State Department said he will “press forward on negotiations with the Taliban to reach a consensus on core national security issues, and urge their participation in an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue.”

After several rounds of talks, Khalilzad has reported some progress towards an accord on withdrawing US troops and on how the Taliban would prevent extremists from using Afghanistan to launch attacks as al-Qaeda did in 2001. But the Taliban still refuse to negotiate with Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime controlled by the United States.

Khalilzad said he had tried in recent weeks to foster such a dialogue, adding there had been some progress “but not as much as I wanted”.

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