Published: Mon, February 11, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Negotiator: US Wants Afghan Peace Deal Before July Election

Negotiator: US Wants Afghan Peace Deal Before July Election

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. But he also stressed that many issues remain to be resolved and that it must be a package deal.

"We are in the early stage of a protracted process", he said.

The Taliban had issued a statement to announce Baradar's appointment and a reshuffle in their team to put senior leaders into key positions as the talks with USA officials gain momentum.

The Times said the Taliban had complained about the increase in airstrikes and raids.

One senior USA official, who declined to be identified, said of Pakistan's role in the talks: "We know it just wouldn't be possible without their support".

"A peace agreement can allow withdrawal".

He referred to statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump about the U.S. desire to have good relations with Pakistan.

The Taliban control almost half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

A statement issued on behalf of all parties also agreed on the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. The war is now considered a stalemate.

Intra-Afghan negotiations are a "key objective" for the US, Khalilzad said, noting the Taleban and the Afghan government "must sit across the table and come to an agreement".

A top Russian diplomat on Thursday met with Taliban representatives and expressed Moscow's support for the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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.

Critics have questioned the wisdom of accepting any Taliban assurances against collaboration with al-Qaida, and Khalilzad did not explain how Washington would ensure that any such arrangement were effective.

Khalilzad is seeking an agreement in which Taliban would negotiate in good faith with the Afghan government and commit to ending any terrorism threat within the country. "Words are not enough", he said. As part of these initial talks, "we have agreed in principle on a framework for possible USA withdrawal", Khalilzad said...

He said that talks between two opposing powers are meant to achieve a mutual resolution to outstanding issues and the re-establishment of peace and stability.

The difference he witnessed in Doha was the realisation that this approach would not work, he said, adding that all sides, including the Taliban, were now willing to accommodate each other.

Top Taliban leader Mullah Baradar who now leads the peace efforts with the United States, was released by Pakistan at the behest of the Trump Administration, a USA envoy said. So, the time has come, they say for an inclusive dialogue leading to an inclusive piece, he said.

They "called for the protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles, and to undertake efforts to attract global assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan's infrastructure".

Weeks after initiating direct talks with the Taliban, wherein the two agreed on a framework of peace agreement, Trump Administration's point person Friday told a Washington audience that these were just a few steps in the direction of peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan and that they have a long way to go. They also contend that a long cease-fire would make it hard to get their troops back into the field if the halt to violence came to an end.

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