The US is hoping for concluding the peace talks with Taliban, the Afghan militant group, before Afghanistan’s Presidential elections, due in July. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy conducting the deal with Taliban addressed a gathering at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Friday. He said, “The timing of a peace settlement from our point of view is the sooner is better.”
He added, “There is an election, I know, that makes reaching a peace agreement particularly complicated. But it will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election.”
Afghanistan elections were due for April 20 but the vote got deferred for three months as the peace talks showed signs of progress. President Ashraf Ghani, who got elected in 2014, is contesting for a second term.
US initiated peace talks with Taliban to put an end to the 17- year old war and to convince the militant group, which controls more than half of Afghanistan, to negotiate with the government in Kabul. Taliban has agreed to hold talks with the government on condition that US withdraw its troops from the territory, an issue whose resolution is still pending.
Khalilzad clarified that the any US troop withdrawal would be dependent on conditions on the ground, and not on any particular timetable.
The key objective of the US-Taliban peace summit, the first round of which was held last month at Doha, is to combat terrorism and make both Taliban and the Afghan government come to an agreement. The Afghan government has not yet been a part of the talks as the Afghan militant group considered Ghani and his administration a mere US puppet, and have refused offers for truce talks with it.
Currently, United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and a separate counter-terrorism effort to prevent the spread of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State in the country.
The next round of US-Taliban talks are scheduled to be held in Doha on February 25.
Khalilzad announced that the draft framework of the agreement is in place but also warned about the serious conflicts which lay unresolved between both the parties.
He said, “Our vision long term is for an Afghanistan that’s entirely sovereign, independent. If they decide that they don’t want to have foreign troops, we don’t want to stay where we are not wanted — provided that there is no threat to our national security from Afghanistan. That is a red line, and I think that’s a policy of the (US) president as well.”