Taliban, US to sit down to peace talks

Taliban, US to sit down to peace talks

Taliban, US to sit down to peace talks

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday embarked on a two-week tour of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China for talks with each country's leadership on the Afghan peace process.

Daudzai landed in Islamabad for wide-ranging talks on Tuesday amid an intensification of peace efforts by the U.S. and other regional powers to seek a negotiated settled to the conflict between the Afghan government and the insurgency.

The upcoming negotiations - the fourth in a series aimed at ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan - are scheduled to be held between representatives of Taliban and US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces and a possible ceasefire in 2019. "The US goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement where every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law", a State Department's statement said.

"They (Taliban) say that they do not want to talk with the Afghan government, yet they have accepted committing unforgivable crimes", said Abdullah.

Reports last month about Trump's plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul, which depends on the U.S. and other foreign powers for military support and training.

The Taliban have repeatedly rejected to hold talks on peace with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

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"Earlier, Taliban had refused to allow inclusion of representative of Afghanistan government despite requests from both Pakistan and Afghanistan".

Khalilzad "will lead an interagency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from January 8 to 21", the U.S. state department said on Wednesday.

India has so far ruled out talks with the Taliban, though it had "non-official" representation at a meeting under the "Moscow format" hosted by Russian Federation in November.

The Taliban wanted a United States withdrawal, a prisoner exchange and a lifting of the ban on movement of their leaders, one told Reuters. The meeting was held after Taliban officials met with Iranian authorities in Tehran.

The US still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

But the special envoy was hopeful of a breakthrough in talks this year: "We have declared that 2019 should be the year of peace in Afghanistan".

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's special envoy, Mohammad Omar Daudzai on Wednesday said that Pakistan was playing a positive role in the Afghan peace talks, ARY News reported.

In India, Khalilzad is to meet foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and national security adviser Ajit Doval, two people familiar with the development said.

The people pointed out that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only ones that had recognised the erstwhile Taliban regime in Kabul, while Khalilzad served as the contact person for U.S. oil company Unocal, which helped the Taliban lobby with the USA state department in 1997 to recognise the regime in Kabul.

Daudzai welcomed the "multiplicity" of the peace effort but said all parties needed better coordination to create consensus at the national, regional and global levels.

"If we talk about an interim government, then it would be an interim government in which Dr Simar Samar served as deputy and I was served as foreign minister".

"They are coordinating with us and they are taking our permission", he said, referring to meetings between the Taliban and representatives from the USA, Russia and Iran. "Somebody can sit in the front row and somebody can sit in the back row but they all are on the same bus with one driver. U.S. is seeking assurance from the Taliban that it should not face any threats from the Afghan soil in the future", he added.

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