US envoy Khalilzad heads 6-nation tour for ‘intra-Afghan talks

Postado Fevereiro 11, 2019

A senior U.S. diplomat is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Afghanistan, to boost that country's peace process and bring "all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue", the State Department said Sunday.

Shanahan, who will meet US troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on his first trip in his new role, said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the almost 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan.

The emphasis on bringing "all Afghan parties together" appeared crucial.

USA officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since a year ago in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

President Donald Trump has been pushing to end United States involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed.

The US envoy's most recent talks were in Doha late last month where the two sides met for six days.

Since being appointed last September as the U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad has carried out a number of rounds of talks with the Taliban and other regional representatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, India, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. But Khalilzad emphasized that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.

Ghani spoke last week with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who also stressed the importance of the Afghan government being at the centre of the peace process. The correspondence came after Trump accused Pakistan of "doing nothing" despite receiving "billions of dollars" in aid.

The Pentagon's top official made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to meet USA commanders and Afghan leaders amid a push for peace with the Taliban.

The two-day talks were the Taliban's most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in years, and saw former president Hamid Karzai, among others, dining and praying with the insurgents - though without the involvement of the government it was unclear what impact they will have.

"It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan", Shanahan told reporters accompanying him, as cited by Reuters.

"The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like".

Shanahan will meet General Scott Miller, the top USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation commander in Afghanistan, during his visit.

The pace of any USA troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a major point of discussion - and concern - given the strength the Taliban still wields and the group's well-established history of hosting terror groups.

Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan's main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns.

In his remarks to reporters during his flight to Kabul, Shanahan said that although the Islamic State presence in Syria "has been decimated", local Syrian security forces are needed to ensure stability.