The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad says that the United States is seeking peace and political settlement in Afghanistan and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will be conditions-based.
Khalilzad is in Kabul for his sixth visit since last November and he has held five rounds of talks with the Taliban. In his last round of talks in Doha in mid-March, the US and the Taliban agreed in draft on counterterrorism assurances and US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We are seeking peace and a political settlement, not a withdrawal,” Khalilzad said in an interview with TOLOnews on Sunday. “We want a peace which will provide the ground for withdrawal.”
He said that “it is not true that the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan will happen ahead of a peace deal”.
“They (Taliban) are seeking a timeline (on US forces withdrawal) so that the US accepts a specific timeline for withdrawal and we say that we are ready to withdraw based on conditions,” Khalilzad explained.
He said that both the US’s presence and its withdrawal are depended on conditions. “If conditions are provided earlier, we will not insist on remaining in Afghanistan forever. This depends on conditions,” he stressed.
Khalilzad said that Washington from one perspective is in hurry to end the expenses and the threats against its forces in Afghanistan as soon as possible but besides that, Khalilzad said, “Washington wants to end this mission responsibly” and leave a “good legacy from the US in Afghanistan”.
“We learned from the (then) USSR experience that withdrawal at that time led to bad happenings in Afghanistan… We don’t want this to be repeated, therefore, we insist that the four things should happen while the US presence in Afghanistan is relevant to these matters.”
He said that there have been “good developments” in US-Taliban talks about four topics: the US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan, counterterrorism assurances, ceasefire and direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“Agreement with the Taliban will not fully end violence in Afghanistan,” adding that there might be a threat from Daesh to Afghans.
According to Khalilzad, there has been an international consensus on Afghan peace but a regional consensus is yet to be created in this respect.
On the issues around the “cancelation” of Qatar intra-Afghan dialogue, Khalilzad said the meeting did not happen because some steps were taken slowly which hampered the process.
“About the Doha (meeting), I want to say that there were problems but progress happened as well. The first progress was that Taliban accepted to meet high-ranking officials from the (Afghan) government who will be part of the delegation,” Khalilzad said. “Though the list was long, despite that, at least there was an agreement on a list which can be used in the future.”
He said that even “there were plans to invite Mullah (Abdul Ghani) Baradar for a dinner in Doha.”
On a question that why the Doha meeting, scheduled for April 19, was canceled, Khalilzad said “there were some mistakes from different sides” but added that next time, the preparations should be better.
The US Special Envoy in his meeting with China and Russian envoys in Moscow on April 25 agreed to hold another meeting in Doha.
“This is a decision by different sides. We (the US) think that Doha made efforts in this respect and it was announced in Moscow by the Taliban that the next meeting will be held in Doha. It is not good to disrespect them (the Taliban),” he added.
He said that other countries, including Uzbekistan, Norway, Germany, and Indonesia, are interested to host peace meeting on Afghanistan.
According to him, the initial list for the Qatar delegation was a 400-member delegation.
Taliban’s Spring Offensive
The US envoy said the Taliban’s spring offensive announcement was “a mistake”.
“I want to say that for the first time in the past 18 years, the United Nations Security Council condemned this act by the Taliban which never happened in the past… And this was one of the positive results of our efforts in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.
He said that the Taliban, by announcing the spring offensive, paid a price for their position which was changed due to their talks with the US.
“We were in talks with them about this (spring offensive) to (push them) that it should not happen but they have their own excuses. I do not accept that the (Afghan) government made such an announcement at first,” Khalilzad said.
The US Special Envoy said they are still seeking to reduce the violence and agree on a limited ceasefire if not a permanent ceasefire and that they are not hopeless.
“To end violence, there is a need for talks,” Khalilzad reiterated, adding that “there shouldn’t be more preconditions on the negotiations and that the talks should begin in the near future.
Khalilzad’s Meeting with Mullah Baradar
Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban’s deputy leader and head of the group’s office in Qatar in March, said he found Baradar a “patriot” person.
“I am not agreed with his (Baradar’s) views but I do not want to say that he is not a person with whom I cannot reach an agreement,” he added.
Khalilzad will hold talks with Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Monday, April 29, according to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Jawed Faisal.