World

Long a spoiler, Pakistan quietly starts aiding US-Taliban talks

Long a spoiler, Pakistan quietly starts aiding US-Taliban talks

Dan Feldman, a former USA special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he believed Washington was still hesitant to become too hopeful about Pakistan's change in posture.

Weeks after initiating direct talks with the Taliban, wherein the two agreed on a framework of peace agreement, Trump Administration's point person Friday told a Washington audience that these were just a few steps in the direction of peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan and that they have a long way to go.

Khalilzad said US withdrawal from Afghanistan could only be sought after a peace agreement is reached.

Getting American troops out of Afghanistan, where they have been either fighting the Taliban or advising Afghan government forces since October 2001, is the top priority for the Taliban officials he has talked with, Khalilzad said.

Critics are sceptical about the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.

As the United States hopes to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban before the Afghan elections in July, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has urged Pakistan to be ready to protect its interests in the region.

U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. Even if the troop withdrawal and Taliban assurances on denying haven to extremist groups were fully settled, a peace agreement would not be completed until numerous other issues such as political participation are decided, he said.

Khalilzad was a major player in George W. Bush's administration when the United States first invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

"It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July", Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said, adding that there remained "a lot of work" to do.




The possibility of a unilateral USA withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a new wave of uncertainty in the region, "which poses yet another challenge to Pakistan", he warned.

The Afghans, he asserted, must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about their future of their country.

The talks come as President Donald Trump pushes to end the Afghanistan conflict, where about 14,000 USA troops are still deployed and which has seen countless thousands of civilian and military deaths.

In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Trump said the time has come "to at least try for peace".

But the message that they have given me is that they understand that they can not go back.

"They understand that they can not go back" to how things were, the U.S. negotiator said.

In contrast, his assessment of the 18-year US-led military campaign in Afghanistan was far less positive.

Khalilzad said that he requested Baradar's release because he believed the senior Taliban leader could also play a constructive role in the Afghan peace initiative. Taliban officials alleged publicly this week that the United States had agreed to remove half of its troops from Afghanistan by May, a statement Khalilzad called false.


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