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U.S. aims to have Afghan peace in place by July

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    Posted: 08-Feb-2019 at 2:25pm

American diplomats and the Taliban have agreed in principle to a peace pact that will bring an official end to the longest war in U.S. history, with both sides hopeful a final pact could be in place by July, Washington's top envoy to Afghanistan said Friday.

U.S. aims to have Afghan peace in place by July

July has been set as the goal during the ongoing, bilateral peace talks between Washington and the Afghan terror group, since both sides want a deal in place before the country's presidential elections that month.

"The peace process is not a straight line, and there could be setbacks," U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said. "But there is sufficient time where we could reach an agreement" before Afghans head to the polls this summer, he added during a briefing at the Washington-based Institute for Peace.

But even if a formal deal to end hostilities in Afghanistan cannot be clinched by July, Mr. Khalilzad made clear the Trump administration is focused on ending the 17-year conflict. " We want the war to end this year," said the veteran Afghan-born U.S. diplomat.

Mr. Khalilizad's comments are his first since completing a marathon round of talks with Taliban officials in Qatar in recent weeks. During those talks, Mr. Khalilzad said Taliban negotiators have accepted "in principle" the basic tenets of a peace deal. The talks did not include the U.S.-backed Afghan government, with whom the Taliban have refused to meet.

U.S. negotiators claim they were able to lock in "guarantees and enforcement mechanisms" in the tentative deal, which would ensure Afghanistan would never become a safe haven or harbor for international terror groups like al Qaeda or the Islamic State, Mr. Khalilzad said.

For their part, Taliban negotiators say they have received assurances that half of all the 7,000 U.S. forces currently stationed in Afghanistan would be pulled out by April.

"The Americans told us that from the beginning of February to the end of April, half of the troops from Afghanistan will be withdrawn," Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Taliban lead negotiator Mullah Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai said last week that U.S. and Taliban negotiators have agreed in principle to create a pair of "technical teams" that will spearhead planning for a U.S. withdrawal

Mr. Khalilzad quickly dismissed such claims, taking to social media Wednesday to make clear neither side discussed or agreed to a timetable for an American withdrawal. On Friday, he reiterated that ongoing talks with the Taliban remained focused on ending the conflict.

"We are not seeking a withdrawal agreement, but a peace agreement," Mr. Khalilzad said, noting "the Taliban say they prefer that too."

Mr. Trump is reportedly weighing plans to pull 7,000 American troops - or half of all U.S. forces in the country - from Afghanistan as Washington continues to spearhead peace talks with the Taliban.

"We're going into close to 19 years in being in Afghanistan and for the first time, [the Taliban] are talking about settling, talking about making an agreement, and we bring our people back home if that happens," Mr. Trump told reporters late last month.

But Senate lawmakers are pushing back on a U.S. troop drawdown, approving a non-binding resolution pressing the administration to reconsider the effect of a mass troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and if it could give groups like the Taliban an advantage over the U.S. and its allies.

"Our presence is conditions-based and our withdrawal [will be] conditions-based," Mr. Khalilzad said, adding his team will continue to strive for a peace deal that meets Washington and Kabul's interests.

"There are groups [in Afghanistan] who never want us to leave, there are groups who want us to leave immediately. £ The question is, How do you resolve those differences?" he said.

Source: Washington Post

Talks with Taliban for US troop withdrawal only in early stages, Khalilzad says

The top State Department official charged with negotiating with the Taliban said he hopes to see an end this year to the nearly two-decade war in Afghanistan, calling recent dialogue with the insurgent group encouraging while admitting a cease-fire remains a long-term goal.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, said Friday that he and Taliban negotiators have struck an agreement, in principle, which could pave the way for at least some American servicemembers to exit Afghanistan, where they've been fighting for 17 years. Taliban officials promised Khalilzad in exchange that they would guarantee that Afghanistan " where the 9/11 terrorist attacks were planned " would not harbor terrorists who could threaten Americans or their allies, he said during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace think tank in Washington.

"We are in the early stages of a protracted process to end the long suffering of the Afghan people and to protect the United States " from terrorism from Afghanistan," Khalilzad said during his first public appearance since meeting with Taliban officials last month in Doha, Qatar. " We have a long way to go. ... What we've achieved so far is significant, but they are two or three small steps in a long journey.

The United States boasts a roughly 14,000-troop force in Afghanistan largely working to train and advise the government's security forces as they battle the Taliban for population control in a war long characterized by top U.S. military and Afghan officials as a stalemate. A small percentage of the U.S. force there is focused on targeting terrorist groups namely al-Qaida and Islamic State forces that the Pentagon has said remain a threat.

Source: Stars and Stripes

US peace envoy says talks with Taliban far from finished

Tempering expectations, the Trump administration's peace envoy for Afghanistan said Friday that although his talks with the Taliban have produced a tentative "framework" agreement, negotiations are far from finished.

The envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he hopes a final deal is clinched before Afghanistan's presidential election in July. But he also stressed that many issues remain to be resolved and that it must be a package deal.

"We are in the early stage of a protracted process," he said in remarks at the United States Institute of Peace, adding, "We have a long way to go."

The envoy, who is a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, also called for direct talks to begin as soon as possible between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which thus far has not been involved in Khalilzad's talks. But he noted that the Taliban have been unwilling to take this step, arguing that the government is illegitimate.

Zalmay, who was appointed in September as the State Department's special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said that although he and the Taliban have made progress on the issue of a U.S. troop withdrawal, that is just one among many issues and none has been fully resolved.

"My overall goal is, at the direction of the president and the secretary of state, not to seek a withdrawal agreement but a peace agreement," he said.

The U.S. has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, and President Donald Trump has indicated he wants a substantial withdrawal this year, although no such orders have been given, according to U.S. military officials.

Khalilzad said the U.S. is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want U.S. troops there, "provided that there is no threat to our national security from Afghanistan, that there are not terrorist threats from Afghanistan to the United States £ that is a red line, and I think that's the policy of the president as well."

U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and toppled the Taliban government within weeks. The U.S. military turned its attention largely to Iraq in 2003, and eventually the Taliban were able to regenerate enough combat power to contest key battlefields, mainly in the south. The war is now considered a stalemate.

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. The main U.S. objective, he said, is ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for extremists like al-Qaida, the group led by Osama bin Laden that launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan.

"After many conversations, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees and an enforcement mechanism that no terrorist group international terrorist group or individual would be able to use Afghanistan" as a platform for international terrorism, he said. He added that more talks are planned to "flesh out" the Taliban's commitments.

Critics have questioned the wisdom of accepting any Taliban assurances against collaboration with al-Qaida, and Khalilzad did not explain how Washington would ensure that any such arrangement were effective.

"We will not just rely on people's words," he said, adding that there would have to be "enforcement mechanisms," which he did not define. "Words are not enough," he said.

Khalilzad said the U.S. and the Taliban have worked out a "framework" for a "possible U.S. withdrawal as part of a package deal." 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.

"Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to," he said.

Khalilzad said he sees himself as a "catalyst," to find a formula for Afghans to sit down with each other and work out a roadmap for a peaceful future. He said he wants those intra-Afghan negotiations to start immediately.

He said the Taliban are unwilling to negotiate with the Afghan government, but added there are "indications" that they would be willing to do so in a "multiparty arrangement."

While the U.S. talks with the Taliban have focused on troop presence and assurances that terrorist networks would not be given haven, Khalilzad said intra-Afghan talks could also deal with human rights, freedom of the press and the role of women, who were harshly oppressed under Taliban rule.

"They (the Taliban) say they made a mistake in how they dealt with women the last time," Khalilzad said. "But nevertheless, they're not going to be the government of Afghanistan. They are going to be part of the political process of Afghanistan. They may be part of a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan."

Khalilzad said he has pressed the Taliban to agree to a permanent ceasefire as a step toward ending the war, but they have resisted, arguing that it would remove their leverage and reduce the Afghan government's incentive to make concessions in direct negotiations. They also contend that a long ceasefire would make it difficult to get their troops back into the field if the halt to violence came to an end. But he said there are ongoing discussions about arranging some sort of ceasefire.

Source: Miami Herald

Edited by AfghanistanNews - 08-Feb-2019 at 2:33pm
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