Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

United States envoy denies Taliban claim on foreign troop withdrawal

US Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wants peace deal before July vote US heightens attacks on Taliban to gain leverage in peace talks: NYT
Jeannette Daniel | 11 February, 2019, 11:23

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Ambassador Khalilzad said he was hopeful a peace deal could be finalized before presidential elections. "What we've achieved so far is significant, but they are two or three small steps in a long journey".

Khalilzad confirmed a framework deal is already in place, though he downplayed this, saying major hurdles remain, and also downplayed the chances of USA troops actually leaving the country in the near term.

"They (Taliban) say they have learned from their mistakes of the past", Zalmay Khalilzad, the American special envoy who is leading the talks, said in a speech on Friday in Washington.

According to the Times, the increased assaults have helped keep the Taliban engaged in peace talks in the colder months while giving the beleaguered Afghan military time to regroup.

And this can not be achieved without the help of regional players, in particular Pakistan, Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said in his maiden public appearance before a Washington audience some six months after he was entrusted with this task by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The United States is seeking a peace agreement and not an agreement to withdraw its troops from war-ravaged Afghanistan, the Trump Administration has said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the USA envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, said Friday that he and Taliban negotiators have struck an agreement, in principle, which could pave the way for at least some American servicemembers to exit Afghanistan, where they've been fighting for 17 years.

The Taliban's top negotiator in Moscow Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said after the meeting that there would be no cease-fire until the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Khalilzad was a major player in George W. Bush's administration when the United States first invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

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In recent months, President Donald Trump has suggested withdrawing almost half of the American forces in Afghanistan, but USA officials have said he has thus far resisted that urge, largely in an effort to back Khalilzad's negotiations.

Additionally, the Taleban have promised not to shelter foreign extremists, but experts say they can not be trusted and even now are helping to hide such militants.

The possibility of a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a new wave of uncertainty in the region, "which poses yet another challenge to Pakistan", he warned. "The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country", he said.

It would be better for Afghanistan to have a peace agreement before the presidential elections scheduled for July 20, according to the top USA envoy for Afghanistan.

He said that they had eventually even opened a political office in Doha, Qatar in 2013 for this objective, but Washington had been unwilling to negotiate at the time.

Trump has repeatedly spoken about the need for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, where it has been bogged down in a conflict with the Taliban and other groups since late 2001.

The Afghan government, which was not invited to attend the Moscow talks, said the talks will not help in the Afghan peace process adding that it was a "political and scientific discussion" rather than talks on the Afghan peace.

"But we don't have to wait until then for regional players to play a positive role".

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