US top peace negotiator for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has thanked Pakistan for their ongoing efforts toward ending conflict in the war-torn country.
Washington’s peace envoy told Pakistani officials that Afghanistan’s Taliban and Kabul’s political leaders were close to starting negotiations to decide the face of a post-war Afghanistan, a crucial next step in a U.S. deal signed with the Taliban in February, according to a statement released Thursday by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.
US top envoy meets Pakistani officials to discuss Afghanistan peace deal
Zalmay Khalilzad was in the region to pave the way for intra-Afghan negotiations expected to begin sometime this month. No date had been set, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said late Wednesday the first round would be held in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
Khalizad met with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday and discussed the Afghan peace process in Afghanistan, according to a statement issued by the US Embassy in Islamabad.
“Ambassador Khalilzad thanked Pakistani officials for their ongoing efforts to advance the peace process and noted how close the sides are to starting intra-Afghan negotiations and the importance of resolving remaining issues quickly, underscoring the promise peace holds for regional stability and development,” said the embassy statement.
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“The finalisation of a peace treaty between the Taliban and the US will pave the way for inter-Afghan dialogue, which would not only benefit Afghanistan but the whole region,” Qureshi was quoted as saying.
During the meeting, Qureshi assured the US envoy that Pakistan will continue to support efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan. Both sides agreed to carry on their respective efforts in this regard.
Qureshi welcomed the latest developments including announcements on formation of the negotiating team and establishment of High Council of National Reconciliation to move forward for the intra-Afghan talks, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said in its weekly briefing.
He expressed the hope that the release of prisoners will be completed soon to pave the way for the intra-Afghan talks.
Escalating tensions in Afghanistan
Khalilzad’s visit comes after an escalation in tensions between the Taliban and the Afghan forces and as another round of talks kicked off, with the US envoy holding several meetings with the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Sources aware of the developments that took place during the talks in Doha said the Taliban had agreed internally to halt attacks against US forces and “reduce” assaults against Afghan government interests, but clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces have risen. At least 29 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed in Taliban attacks that followed air and ground assaults by government forces on the group over the last weekend.
Read more: Afghan Taliban must break ties with Pakistan: Ashraf Ghani demands
Afghan forces and the Taliban also clashed on Tuesday when security personnel tried to access the site of a crashed US military plane in central Afghanistan. US forces were later able to access the site and recover the remains of two personnel and what is believed to be the flight data recorder. Earlier, the Afghan defence ministry said on Sunday that government forces had killed 51 Taliban fighters in assaults last weekend.
Both sides must still release the remainder of prisoners laid out in the deal, which calls for the Afghan government to free 5,000 Taliban and the insurgents to release 1,000 government personnel. So far, the government has freed 3,500 and the Taliban about 700.
Khalilzad aids Afghan peace process and laments over terrorism in Pakistan
Khalilzad also expressed condolences on the loss of lives in the terrorist attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the commercial capital Karachi. Four gunmen armed with grenades attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange on Monday, killing two guards and a policeman before being killed by law enforcement officers.
Read more: Pakistan: US must remain engaged in rebuilding Afghanistan after troops leave
Khalilzad’s latest foray into the region comes as the White House is embroiled in a controversy over whether Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants or drug dealers close to the Taliban to kill U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
U.S. President Donald Trump has denied knowing about the suspected bounties. Russia has called the charges nonsense and the Taliban said they have not needed financial incentives from foreign intelligence agencies to wage war against U.S. and NATO troops.
Anadolu with addiotional input by GVS news desk
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