–US envoy says he is hoping Afghanistan can strike a peace agreement before July elections
ISLAMABAD: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad will undertake an important visit to Pakistan before February 20 to finalise the peace accord with Taliban.
Well-placed sources said the US administration has taken the final decision to pull out of Afghanistan and are willing to go ahead keeping in view the significance of Pakistan’s role. The US has accepted Prime Minister Imran Khan stance on holding talks with the Taliban as correct, they added.
A final shape is being given to Khalilzad’s visit to Pakistan before February 20.
Sources said that Pakistan’s foreign ministry has made the final preparations regarding the expected visit of Khalilzad and the final date will be announced within a few days.
The US diplomat will hold a special meeting with PM Imran Khan during this visit. The US has set July 2019 target for giving final shape to the peace accord with Taliban, sources said.
PEACE DEAL BEFORE JULY ELECTION:
On Friday, Khalilzad said he is hoping Afghanistan can strike a peace agreement including the Taliban before elections scheduled for July.
“It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said, adding that there remained “a lot of work” to do.
Khalilzad, who is leading talks with the Taliban, was at the US Institute of Peace in Washington to discuss an ongoing push for a political settlement to the 17-year-old Afghanistan conflict.
A former US ambassador to Afghanistan who is now special envoy in the talks, Khalilzad has, in recent months, held meetings with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group’s senior leaders have an office in the capital Doha.
He has expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of a deal, and even announced a draft framework, but stressed nothing had been finalised.
Critics are sceptical about the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.
Additionally, the Taliban have promised not to provide shelter again to foreign extremists, but experts say they cannot be trusted and even now are helping to hide foreign militants.
The talks come as US President Donald Trump pushes to end the Afghanistan conflict, where about 14,000 US troops are still deployed and which has seen countless thousands of civilian and military deaths, as well as an infusion of more than $1 trillion in US cash into the country.
In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump said the time has come “to at least try for peace.”
Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
Khalilzad was a major player in George W. Bush’s administration when the United States first invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.