Special envoy urges Afghans to ‘put country first’ and focus on clearing obstacles that slow process of intra-Afghan talks
U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Thursday said he had met Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar for a “candid” discussion about the next steps following a resumption of attacks on Kabul security forces within days of a peace deal being signed between Washington and the insurgents.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Khalilzad said his discussion with Baradar has been followed by a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump. “We all agreed the purpose of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is to pave the path to a comprehensive peace in Afghanistan,” he said.
The special envoy went on to say that any rise in violence was a threat to the peace deal. “Increasing violence is a threat to the peace agreement and must be reduced immediately. In addition to discussing the need to decrease violence, we also talked about the exchange of prisoners,” he said, adding that Washington was committed to facilitate a prisoner swap as outlined in the peace deal. “We will support each side to release significant numbers,” he said.
“We must act on all fronts to clear the road of obstacles that slow our progress toward intra-Afghan negotiations,” Khalilzad continued. “I once again call on all Afghans to rise to the occasion, put country first and not to lose this historic opportunity,” he added.
The special envoy’s tweets came a few hours after the Pentagon, on Wednesday, sought to play down the resumption of Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. Since the deal was signed on Saturday, the militants have ended a partial truce with the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani and ramped up attacks on security forces.
According to Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, the Taliban staged 30 attacks in 15 provinces in 24 hours. Four civilians and 11 Afghan soldiers were killed in the strikes, along with 17 militants.
Still, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the U.S. military, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the militants were sticking to the deal in not staging any high profile attacks or targeting any foreign forces. “There’s a whole laundry list of these things that aren’t happening,” he said.
A key point that appears to have led to the end of the partial truce is Ghani’s declaration that he would not commit to any kind of prisoner release despite the deal signed between the Taliban and the U.S. The Taliban have announced that they will not participate in intra-Afghan talks, set to begin on March 10, unless they are guaranteed their comrades will be released.
Under the peace deal, U.S. and other foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with Kabul. Experts believe Ghani feels sidelined, as he was not consulted prior to the signing of the agreement.