US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said that this is the time for Afghans to begin healing their old wounds and to outline a new course to end 40 years of war.
“This is a moment for Afghans to begin to heal old wounds and chart a new course for their country. There are many players, many issues, and many moving parts. But we are on the right path, together. As @POTUS said, talks are proceeding well,” Khalilzad tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
This comes amid growing speculation that the Afghan government has been sidelined from recent peace talks between the US and Taliban.
Referring to reservations raised by people in the country about the nature of the talks in Doha, Khalilzad said that it is difficult to resolve a forty-year-old war in one meeting.
“Skeptics have rushed to judgment based on just the first part of a much larger effort, as though we have a completed agreement. But you can't eat an elephant in one bite! And a forty year old war won't be resolved in one meeting, even if that meeting runs for close to a week,” he said.
The Taliban’s refusal to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue has angered the Afghan government – which has said any abrupt move in the peace process will follow consequences for all parties involved in the conflict.
But Khalilzad said that significant progress was made with the Taliban during the talks in Doha, especially on counter terrorism and the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
“We made significant progress on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal. That doesn't mean we're done. We're not even finished with these issues yet, and there is still work to be done on other vital issues like intra-Afghan dialogue and a complete ceasefire,” he said.
Khalilzad said that the path to peace doesn’t often run in a straight line, adding that the situation in Afghanistan is complex and like all sensitive talks, not everything is conducted in public.
On Sunday Khalilzad briefed President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on the Doha discussions and on Monday he briefed the Afghan media.
In a statement issued by the Presidential Palace after Ghani met with Khalilzad, Ghani’s office said Khalilzad quashed rumors of talks around the future structure of Afghanistan’s system with the Taliban and rejected claims of talks about an interim government.
According to Khalilzad, during the meeting with the Taliban, America emphasized that the only solution to lasting peace was an intra-Afghan dialogue. But the Taliban have been insisting that they will never talk to the government and instead branded it a “puppet”.
Later on Monday night and in light of Khalilzad’s report back, Ghani addressed the nation in a televised message and called on the Taliban to engage in direct talks with government.
Ghani also assured the people that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace and that the country’s sovereignty will be upheld.
Regional approach to the talks
Pakistan which wields a strong influence on the Taliban also declared recent talks in Qatar a major victory.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Sunday said last week’s talks between the United States and the Taliban was a "major diplomatic victory".
Key to peace and war
Defending his policy on the peace process in Afghanistan, Ghani said on Wednesday that the key to peace is in Afghanistan because the Afghan government has a roadmap and a plan for peace. However he clarified that the key to war lies in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
“The key to peace is in Afghanistan because we have the scheme, plan and roadmap for peace, but the key for war is in Islamabad, Quetta and Rawalpindi,” Ghani said.
This came after Khalilzad said the key for peace was in the hands of Afghans.