Intra-Afghan negotiations only realistic peace solution: Top US diplomat

Washington: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said there is no alternative to intra-Afghan negotiations for peace in the war-torn country, even as he asserted that the withdrawal of American troops was going on track.

In a conference call, Khalilzad told reporters that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan.

“There is consensus, both in Afghanistan and internationally, that there is no military solution to the war. A political solution, a peace agreement among Afghans is the only realistic option at present,” the diplomat said.

“We also want a political settlement in order to reduce the burden on the United States — and that is happening — and also to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a platform to attack the United States or our allies,” he said, adding that the United States-Taliban agreement opens a historic opportunity for moving forward on peace.

Khalilzad said the sooner the intra-Afghan negotiations begin, the sooner peace will return. He said it would be best if the intra-Afghan negotiations happen when there is substantial force in southern Afghanistan.

He noted the key requirement for the US was that the Taliban deliver on its commitment on counterterrorism.

The Taliban and the Afghanistan government do not want endless war and a Syria-like scenario, Khalilzad said.

“And there are obstacles particularly both violence and prisoners are the two obstacles at this point. Those are the ones that we’re working on to overcome. Of course, there are forces such as ISIS that do not see peace in Afghanistan in its interests and are trying to increase violence, to undermine the prospect of peace, he said.

The top diplomat said the US was urging both sides not to fall for the ISIS plans, and instead cooperate against the terrorists, including ISIS.

Responding to a question, Khalilzad said the ISIS and the Taliban are mortal enemies and the Taliban has played a key role in the war against the ISIS.

“Of course, the government has as well, and we have played a vital role in that fight. And that fight is not finished, and we believe that our assessment currently is that the attacks that took place against the hospital and the attack in Nangarhar on a funeral procession were the works of the ISIS, which, as I said before, is the enemy of the peace process,” he said.

The appropriate response is to accelerate the peace process, not to delay it because of what ISIS has done, he asserted.

The United States, he said, has urged all sides to reduce violence.

“We have urged Afghans to come together to take advantage of the historic opportunity and have pushed President (Ashraf) Ghani and Dr (Abdullah) Abdullah to reach a political agreement to form an inclusive government. We have pushed to get both sides, the Afghan Government and the Taliban to release prisoners, he said.

While the government has released over 1,000 prisoners, the Taliban has released over 250 captives.

We want to get to the intra-Afghan negotiations as soon as possible, and there has been a discussion of dates both in the agreement — that date was missed and now a new date is under discussion, he said.

Intra-Afghan negotiations are the only path to an enduring peace among Afghans, Khalilzad said.

“We have also gone, and continue to go after terrorists in Afghanistan ourselves, and also have urged the Taliban and the Afghan Government to do so. Indeed, that’s the requirement of the agreement between us and the Taliban and the joint declaration between the United States and the Afghan Government. We have sought to build international consensus and support for peace, and we have pushed for the release of American hostages in Afghanistan,” he said.

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