WASHINGTON DC: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, to boost the peace process and bring “all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue”.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the State Department said Khalilzad, who has undertaken extensive recent talks with the Taliban, would head an inter-agency delegation from February 10 to 28.
It was unclear whether the group had already left at the time of the statement.
The itinerary will take the US delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the statement said, adding that Khalilzad would “consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip.”
The emphasis on bringing “all Afghan parties together” appeared crucial. US-Taliban peace talks have not included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets, and Khalilzad said recently that intra-Afghan negotiations were essential.
The US envoy has in recent months met several times with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group’s leaders have an office in the capital Doha.
Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan’s July presidential elections.
President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed. But Khalilzad emphasized that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.
Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and a US invasion following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
The US envoy is on a mission to expedite the Afghan peace process as the war in the war-torn country enters its 19th year.
He has held a series of meetings with the Pakistani leadership as part of Washington’s renewed push to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.
The latest push for a peace came after President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, seeking Pakistan’s help for the negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict.
In the letter, the United States had sought PM Imran’s full support to advance Afghan peace process. The correspondence came after Trump accused Pakistan of “doing nothing” despite receiving “billions of dollars” in aid.
PM IK’s response to Trump’s offensive tweets against Pak compelled Trump to do a reality chk & write to PM Khan asking for help in bringing peace to Afghanistan! So much for those in Pak who were quivering after IK’s tweets went out!
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) December 4, 2018
Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2018
The premier had hit back to the allegations by advising Washington to assess its efficiency in the war on terror instead of making Pakistan a scapegoat for its failure.
Although both the US and Pakistan now have a commonality of views on seeking a political solution to the Afghan problem, the trust deficit between the two is the real stumbling block. Relations between the two countries are tense despite recent efforts to reset the troubled ties.