Thursday, 13 December, 2018

U.S. envoy hopes for peace deal with Taliban in 2019

These were preliminary talks and no agreement was reached on any issue These were preliminary talks and no agreement was reached on any issue
Steven Clarke | 20 November, 2018, 17:31

Khalilzad said that he hopes a peace deal is reached before April 20, the date of Afghanistan's Presidential elections on April 20 and simultaneously called on the Taliban to use it as an opportunity.

The Afghan-born USA diplomat said he remained "cautiously optimistic" about the peace talks.

Khalilzad, chosen by US President Donald Trump's administration to hold direct talks with the Taliban, met the leaders of the hard-line Islamist group in Qatar last month to find ways to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The Taliban have long refused USA demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which the insurgents view as a puppet regime.

A separate report released by a USA government watchdog on Monday said there had been little progress toward reconciliation between July and September. The releases are widely seen as a US-directed move aimed at encouraging the Taliban to participate in talks.

It was reported that Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mohammed Fazel, a former Taliban military chief, attended the marathon talks.

In a lengthy statement issued earlier this month, the Taliban had demanded the lifting of sanctions against the group's leaders, the release of prisoners and the recognition of their office in Qatar.

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While Dunford said recent elections in Afghanistan were "largely successful" and noted the importance of next year's presidential election, he added, "I think we are a long way", from being able to say that point of reconciliation with the Taliban has been reached.

Another senior member said Khalilzad's strategy to declare a deadline showed how desperate the United States was to withdraw foreign forces.

All five former Guantanamo Bay detainees are now based in Qatar and are thought to have enough influence with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to broker a peace deal.

President Donald Trump harshly criticized the 2014 prisoner exchange, and in a speech last August pledged to send in additional US forces and redouble efforts to defeat the Taliban. USA officials could not immediately be reached for comment as the State Department has refused to comment on reported talks with the Taliban.

Dunford, the top USA military officer, said during a discussion at a security forum in Halifax, Canada, that the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies were working to leverage military, political, and economic pressure to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war.

The US special envoy to Afghanistan is leading diplomatic efforts to persuade the Taliban to engage in negotiations with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

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