Afghan Tal­iban says will con­tinue talks with US peace en­voy

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

KABUL: Tal­iban lead­ers will con­tinue to meet for dis­cus­sions with the newly ap­pointed US spe­cial en­voy for peace ef­forts in Afghanistan, the Tal­iban said on Satur­day, a move that could ac­cel­er­ate diplo­matic en­gage­ment be­tween the war­ring sides.

Zal­may Khalilzad, an Afghan­born US diplo­mat, met with Tal­iban lead­ers in Qatar on Fri­day in an ef­fort to find a way to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

“Both sides spoke (about) an end to the oc­cu­pa­tion and a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the Afghan is­sue... Both sides agreed to con­tinue meet­ing in the fu­ture,” Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid said in a state­ment.

Khalilzad ar­rived in Kabul on Satur­day and briefed Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani about his 10day tour of four coun­tries, which ended with the meet­ing with lead­ers of the mil­i­tant group.

De­clare cease­fire

A se­nior mem­ber of the Tal­iban said Khalilzad had asked the Tal­iban lead­er­ship, based in the Qatari cap­i­tal Doha, to de­clare a cease­fire in Afghanistan dur­ing up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary polls.

“Both sides dis­cuss prospects of peace and the US pres­ence in Afghanistan,” said an­other Tal­iban of­fi­cial, re­quest­ing anonymity.

In ex­change, the Tal­iban wants the Afghan govern­ment to re­lease its fight­ers from jails across the coun­try and the swift re­moval of for­eign forces fight­ing along­side Afghan sol­diers.

US of­fi­cials in Kabul were not im­me­di­ately avail­able to com­ment on Khalilzad’s visit.

Khalilzad was ap­pointed as US Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion last month, as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion launched fresh ef­forts to hold peace talks with the Tal­iban.

A se­nior of­fi­cial work­ing with the Afghan pres­i­dent said Khalilzad had briefed Ghani about his meet­ings with se­nior min­is­ters and top diplo­mats in four coun­tries who could play a key role in peace talks with the Tal­iban.

Khalilzad’s trip started in Afghanistan and he trav­elled to Pak­istan, the United Arab Emi­rates, Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar be­fore re­turn­ing to Kabul.

Western and Asian diplo­mats in Kabul said Khalilzad, 67, has knowl­edge of the coun­try’s main lan­guages, cul­ture and pol­i­tics that could help him en­gage with all stake­hold­ers in the peace process.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Ghani’s govern­ment are now bank­ing on Khalilzad to find a diplo­matic way to end the war with the Tal­iban,” said a top Western diplo­mat in Kabul.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts in Kabul said both sides will have to make con­ces­sions for the talks to suc­ceed.

Con­tin­ued fight­ing

But con­tin­ued fight­ing has raised ques­tions about the vi­a­bil­ity of the US strat­egy to end the war, which for the past year has fo­cused on forc­ing the mil­i­tants to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, largely via more air strikes.

Last week the Tal­iban de­manded a com­plete with­drawal of for­eign forces as the only so­lu­tion to end the war that be­gan with the 2001 ouster of the Tal­iban for­mer govern­ment by US-led forces af­ter it re­fused to hand over Osama bin Laden fol­low­ing the 9/11 at­tacks on the United States.

They have ramped up at­tacks in strate­gic prov­inces and have also di­rected Afghans to boy­cott par­lia­men­tary elec­tions sched­uled for Oc­to­ber 20.

At least 8,050 Afghan civil­ians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of 2018, al­most half of them tar­geted by sui­cide bomb at­tacks and other im­pro­vised de­vices that may amount to war crimes, the United Na­tions said last week.

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