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US admits Pakistan convinced Taliban to hold talks

By News Report
October 04, 2020

ISLAMABAD: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said Pakistan played important role on making Afghan Taliban agree for peace talks and encouraged them to reduce violence.

“Pakistan has been helpful to the effort that we have made in the last two years, and they have encouraged the Talibs to enter negotiations with the government and they have encouraged the Talibs to reduce violence. They have also been helpful in terms of interaction with the Afghan leaders,” Khalilzad said in an interview with foreign media.

“And we are encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to sign an agreement that neither side's territory can be used by terrorist groups or extremist groups against the other. And I hope that we will achieve results in that regard as well,” he said.

"The fact that the Afghans are sitting across the table for the first time in 42 years is a moment of hope and opportunity," he said. "But this moment is not without its own challenges."

Peace talks began in Doha, Qatar, last month between the Afghan government and the Taliban, even as deadly violence in Afghanistan continues.

Khalilzad brokered an agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban, signed in February. The US has "tested" the Taliban, he said.

"No, we don't take them at their word," he said. "We have asked them to do things with regard to terrorism, and they have taken some of the steps that we have recommended. This is an ongoing process... they are not where we would like them to be. But we will not leave unless we are satisfied that what they have committed to, with regard to terrorism and other things, they're actually implementing."

He said both Afghanistan and the US must avoid mistakes of the 1990s. “As for the US, we will not make the mistake that was made after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was to abandon Afghanistan," he said.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR) of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah said that he is willing to speak with the Taliban in the interest of consensus building and for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.

Abdullah's comments came during an exclusive interview to Saleem Safi in Geo News programme "Jirga" in response to a question about why he is not speaking to the Taliban directly.

"Within Afghanistan, we need consensus-building — among those who are under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — which is important. At the same time, we need consensus-building in the region.”

"I am leading the entire efforts for peace and reconciliation and if the time comes, if it is needed that I negotiate with the Taliban leaders and they agree, I will do that," Abdullah said.

The Afghan leader said that he was in constant contact with the negotiations team.

Speaking about the deal struck between him and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said that despite there being no foreign guarantor, the agreement would not fall apart.

Abdullah said that when both the leaders decided to work together, it was based on a common understanding. Unity is the need of the time for the Afghan people, he said.

Talking about the peace deal that is facing several hurdles, he said that both parties — the Afghan government and Taliban — decided to initiate talks after "nearly three decades of fighting".

"Through war, there are no winners and through inclusive peace, there are no losers," he said, adding: "Personally, I would have preferred it to move in a more speedy manner.

The Afghan official said that the people were looking forward to results — a decrease in violence and reaching an agreement of ceasefire.

Highlighting Pakistan's role in the intra-Afghan dialogue, he said: "We are appreciative of Pakistan's role in the Doha agreement and later on in the negotiations."

"I was also appreciative of Prime Minister Imran Khan's message that called for a reduction in the violence leading to a ceasefire, which is very important," he said, adding that he expressed his gratitude to the Pakistani leadership.

The Afghan official said that he is leaving Pakistan with a positive image of the country and that he has no doubt that peace in Afghanistan will lead to peace in Pakistan, and ultimately the region.

Responding to a question that all several regional powers were not a part of the peace talks, he said: "As a whole, all the countries are supporting a peaceful settlement."

When asked if after the US presidential elections Joe Biden comes into power, does he perceive a threat to the peace process, he said that despite different approaches, both leaders (US President Donald Trump and Biden) are "supportive of a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan".

"Going back to the old days of tens of thousands of troops would not be possible," he added.

He said the issue bears urgency for us, for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the entire region, "because we would be the ones most impacted if peaceful settlement is not secured".

Abdullah was also asked what opportunities he sees for strategic cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Things start from small steps. Complaints exist on both sides but there has been progress in the interactions and status of relations between both countries and even those small steps will have a big impact," he responded by saying.

"As neighbours we have no other choice but to work together."

The Afghan leader said that the more both sides "address each other's legitimate concerns and work on the basis of common interest, mutual interest the better it will be".

He appreciated the recently approved visa policy by the cabinet which her termed a good development on that front.

"This will be helpful in people to people relations," Abdullah said.