U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul on Monday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other officials, as part of an ongoing drive to find a way out of Afghanistan’s 17-year-old war.
The Afghan-born U.S. adviser said on Twitter he had spoken with government representatives and “discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue.”
Khalilzad’s visit to Kabul comes ahead of an expected new round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, reportedly due to begin in mid-April. Previous talks in the Qatari capital, where the Taliban has a political office, concluded last month with Khalilzad saying “real strides” had been made.
On the table were proposals to get foreign armed forces out of Afghanistan, and for the Taliban to guarantee the country cannot be used as a springboard for terror groups to launch future attacks.
The State Department last week said Khalilzad’s trip was “part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.” So far, however, U.S.-Taliban talks have not included the Kabul government.
The Taliban have long refused to speak with Kabul, deeming the administration of Ghani—who is seeking re-election this year—puppets of the West. But a senior Taliban official said they may consider meeting Afghan government officials in future Doha talks “as independent politicians.”
Afghanistan remains on edge ahead of a new fighting season in the spring, and fears abound of an increase in Taliban attacks to gain leverage at the negotiating table.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters attacked a convoy carrying Afghanistan’s vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum in the northern province of Balkh. The attack killed one of Dostum’s bodyguards, but the former warlord escaped unhurt.
A spokesman for Dostum said he would not be attending the Doha talks—but representatives from his political party would go.
Khalilzad’s trip has already seen him stop in London and Brussels as he seeks global support for a peace deal.