The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, in an interview with TOLOnews said Taliban has accepted that they cannot win by warfare and that political settlement should be sought for ending the crisis in the country.
Khalilzad said in the Abu Dhabi talks, they discussed with Taliban representatives on announcing a three-month ceasefire and Taliban representatives have said they would consult with their leaders in this regard.
Khalilzad, who arrived in Kabul from Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, said in they did not hold discussions on changing the political system and Afghanistan’s internal affairs, but added that Taliban has reached a point where they cannot win through warfare, and that political options should be sought for putting an end to the current situation.
“Taliban said there is no military solution, we cannot defeat you. We first should sit with the US and then with the Afghan government to resolve the problem,” said Khalilzad.
In the Abu Dhabi talks, representatives from the United States, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and representatives of Taliban attended. Also, a negotiating team from the Afghan government went to Abu Dhabi to hold close talks with Taliban, but the Taliban representatives refused to meet the Afghan government negotiating team.
Khalilzad said, “I think they made a mistake in not meeting the Afghan government delegation. The countries who were present there, their reactions to this stance of Taliban was very negative, and questions were raised on whether the Taliban really wanted peace."
According to Khalilzad, the release of Taliban’s prisoners including Anas Haqqani, son of the founder of Haqqani network Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is in an Afghan government prison, was also discussed in Abu Dhabi.
Khalilzad said after reaching a peace deal with Taliban, the presence of the US in Afghanistan would somehow change.
According to Khalilzad, Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi said they would share the issue of a three-month ceasefire with their leaders. “We talked about a ceasefire. The Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates’ suggestion was that negotiations should be held on all issues for three months and a ceasefire should be announced during the negotiations,” Khalilzad said.
Now the question is, if a peace agreement is made with Taliban, would the current political system change to an Islamic Emirate?
Khalilzad said, “It is not an issue that has been proposed and there is no chance of that. I would be surprised if anyone thought such a system would come about.”
Khalilzad also said Trump’s administration had promised the Americans that the Afghan war would end, but if the war continues, Washington would stand with the Afghan people.
Khalilzad also praised Pakistan for its recent efforts in the Abu Dhabi peace talks.
In Abu Dhabi, for the first time a comprehensive delegation from Taliban’s leadership team and members of Haqqani network met with representatives from the US.
In their meeting with representatives from US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Abu Dhabi, the Taliban once again called for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
On Wednesday Khalilzad met with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad and then arrived in Kabul where he met with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib.
In the meantime, a number of Afghan politicians and former Jihadi leaders on Thursday met with Khalilzad in former president Hamid Karzai’s house in Kabul.
Sources told TOLOnews that Khalilzad asked the politicians and leaders to create unity in the Afghan peace negotiating team.
The leaders who met Khalilzad included former president Hamid Karzai, chief executive of Jamiat-e-Islami party Atta Mohammad Noor, former vice president Mohammad Younus Qanooni, chief of the High Peace Council Karim Khalili, second deputy of the Chief Executive Officer Mohammad Mohqiq, former Hajj and religious affairs minister Nematullah Shahrani, former national security advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar, former urban development minister Sayed Masour Naderi, chairman of Mahaz-e-Milli party Sayed Hamid Gailani, former national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta and former acting foreign minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbil.
According to sources, Khalilzad assured the Afghan politicians and leaders that he has not discussed the establishment of an interim government with Taliban.
Full transcript of the interview:
*Interview translated from Dari
Najafizada: Mr. Khalilzad, why has the United States suddenly, as you said, entered peace negotiations with the Taliban?
Zalamay Khalilzad: Well, first I should say that we see a chance for reaching peace in Afghanistan and want to make use of that chance.
Najafizada: What are the signs of this chance?
Zalamay Khalilzad: One of them is that the Taliban say there is no military solution.
Najafizada: Have they told you?
Zalmay Khalilzad: They told me we cannot defeat you, so we should first sit with you, which means the U.S., then with Afghans, and resolve the issues through political means. The Afghan government says it is unconditionally prepared to sit and talk about peace with the Taliban, and taking into account that the Afghan people in general are tired of war and want to live in a secure environment, which is understandable. The U.S. also wants the costs it bears and challenges it faces in war… why if not a political settlement is reached to achieve Afghanistan’s objectives as a friend of the U.S. and an Afghanistan that it is not a threat to the U.S.
Najafizada: Is the U.S. President also in a hurry?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Definitely, the U.S. President promised the American people during the election that he wanted to end the war in Afghanistan. But it should not be misinterpreted - we want peace here with respect to set objectives - that Afghanistan will not be a threat for the U.S. - and that we have a positive relationship with Afghanistan. If we achieve that through peace, then we will continue, but if the Taliban are not prepared for that and war continues, then we will stand by the Afghan government and people, and I explicitly told this to the Taliban team in Abu Dhabi.
Najafizada: You had negotiations with the Taliban several times in Doha, Abu Dhabi, and in Pakistan. How much progress has been made in the past two or three months?
Zalmay Khalilzad: First I would like say we had talks with the Taliban and most of our discussions were focused on two issues. That was, what do you want from us? Because they have always insisted they want to talk with the United States. They’ve said we have concerns to ask the U.S., and we are here, please share your concerns about the future of Afghanistan, the long term policy of the United States in Afghanistan, terrorism, the end of war and most important, about negotiations between Afghans, about a working schedule based on a political plan…
Najafizada: Is there any progress?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Yes, there is some progress, but not much.
Najafizada: What issues have been agreed upon?
Zalmay Khalilzad: The fact that war does not resolve the problem. Also their concerns and questions about the United States’ long-term policy were answered.
Najafizada: For example, the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan?
Zalmay Khalilzad: For example, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan relates to the situation. Our goal is not to have permanent military bases in Afghanistan. The goal is that if Afghanistan becomes peaceful and terrorism from Afghanistan is not a danger to the world, the United States will withdraw and will have a new relationship with the government of Afghanistan based on a bilateral agreement.
Najafizada: Mr. Ambassador, was an agreement made about a ceasefire?
Zalmay Khalilzad: A ceasefire was discussed. The suggestion put forward by the UAE and Saudi Arabia was that all sides, including the Afghan government, negotiate all matters in a three month timeline, and a ceasefire should be declared during these three months. The Taliban said that they would give feedback to their leadership and then respond to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Najafizada: Was the exchange of Anas Haqqani for the two AUAF professors discussed?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Prisoners’ issues were discussed in the meeting in Abu Dhabi. One of the topics brought up by them was prisoners’ issues.
Najafizada: Is Anas Haqqani, Mr. Ambassador, part of these negotiations?
Zalmay Khalilzad: No, Anas Haqqani was not particularly part of the discussions, but everyone knows Anas Haqqani is one of Haqqani Network’s demands. But the issue of prisoners, which probably included him as well, was one of the talking points.
Najafizada: Why do the Taliban negotiate with you, the U.S., but do not negotiate with the Afghan government and Afghan people?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Well, this is a good question. We support that they sit with Afghans, since there was an Afghan government delegation in Abu Dhabi.
Najafizada: But no negotiations were carried out between them?
Zalmay Khalilzad: We met with them, others…
Najafizada: How close you are to the Taliban to negotiating with the Afghan representatives?
Zalmay Khalilzad: That belongs to the Taliban. I think the Taliban made a mistake in not seeing the Afghan delegation. They made a mistake because the participating countries’ reactions were negative and very unhappy. Questions were raised about if they really want peace, and if they want peace then why not sit at the negotiation table with opposite side.
Najafizada: Mr. Ambassador, to what extent are democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech in Afghanistan important for the United States?
Zalmay Khalilzad: First, no discussion took place on the internal issues of Afghanistan with the Taliban, including the points you raised. All internal issues should be discussed and decided between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Najafizada: That means there hasn’t been any discussion about postponing the elections and changing the government structure?
Zalmay Khalilzad: No, not a single word was discussed in this regard, because this is an internal issue for Afghanistan and should be discussed between Afghans and the Taliban.
Najafizada: Peace has a price, do you agree with this statement?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Certainly.
Najafizada: What price should be paid for peace?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Afghans, both the government and Taliban, should think about this.
Najafizada: Right, but currently Afghans are not meeting the Taliban. You are meeting the Taliban.
Zalmay Khalilzad: Well, as long as they don’t meet each other, there won’t be progress possible on these issues. In order to have progress both sides should start getting prepared to meet and discuss their expectations. The United States cannot speak on behalf of Afghanistan. I clearly told the Taliban there is no alternative except serious peace talks with the Afghan government.
Najafizada: In case the Taliban do not meet the Afghan delegation, your peace efforts won’t have a positive result and that will be the end of the process?
Zalmay Khalilzad: In this case, Afghanistan’s problems won’t be resolved, the conflict will continue and in such a situation we will stand with the people of Afghanistan.
Najafizada: Mr. Ambassador you are one of the players in the establishment of the post-Taliban government system. As an American as well as an Afghan, is return of the Islamic Emirate of Taliban a red-line for you?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Returning to the system before 9/11 is not the issue to be discussed. I am surprised with this question, if the people think that the discussion topic was a return back to that system. The point is that Afghans should talk with each other about how to establish a system that will be acceptable for everyone and to lead Afghanistan towards peace and prosperity.
Najafizada: Do you believe the Afghan government assigned an appropriate delegation, or do they need some changes and adjustment?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Well, I have always insisted on a broad, inclusive, and influential delegation. It is important for Afghans to be united and create opportunities to build trust between those Afghans who are against the Taliban and the Taliban who are not creating serious problems, to be part of the delegation, and they should use each other’s capacity. That is why I suggest Afghans get along with each other and compose a powerful delegation.
Najafizada: More powerful than the current delegation?
Zalmay Khalilzad: I prefer not to comment on the status of the current delegation.
Najafizada: Mr. Ambassador, can you assure Afghan women that no woman will ever be punished in a sports stadium as they were punished in 1996 to 2001?
Zalmay Khalizad: Well, that was debauchery, what happened at that time was against human rights. America is an advocate for equal rights of men and women in the law. America believes every country that wants to be successful has to build positive relations with world, and its entire people, men and women, must have the same rights.
Najafizada: And you have concluded that the Taliban will not pose a threat to the United States after reconciliation and taking part in power?
Zalmay Khalizad: We did not come to this conclusion; they told us that they are ready to convince us. However, talking is the first step, they should prove it in practice. We will reach a conclusion in coming meetings based on an agreement in which Afghans share.
Najafizada: Mr. Ambassador, the last question regarding Pakistan. You are always criticizing Pakistan, particularly its Army. What changes you have seen in its policy as you met the Chief of Army Staff yesterday?
Zalmay Khalizad: Yes, it was apparent in their words and the role Pakistan played in Abu Dhabi. I see a positive move on their side.
Najafizada: For example, what?
Zalmay Khalizad: For example, they encouraged the Taliban to sit at the negotiation table with the Afghan government; there is no other way.
Najafizada: … and brought the Taliban from Pakistan?
Zalmay Khalizad: They helped the Taliban to come from there and pushed them in a meeting that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and we were in; they emphasized this and promised to cooperate in preparing the Taliban to sit at the negotiation table with the Afghan government.
Najafizada: Where we will be in the next year?
Zalmay Khalizad: I hope that peace will come to Afghanistan; war will come to an end… If not now, then when? Why should the war continue when most people believe in a political settlement?
Najafizada: Are you very hopeful now?
Zalmay Khalizad: Yes, I am more optimistic compared to the past months.
Najafizada: Very nice meeting you.
Zalmay Khalizad: Stay safe.