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Friday, January 28, 2022

US envoy to Afghanistan set to return to Qatar for peace talks


The Washington official visited Doha earlier this year, where he suggested holding the delayed Istanbul peace meeting.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is heading back to Qatar and Kabul for the ongoing Afghan peace talks, the State Department announced on Saturday.

Khalilzad departed to Kabul on June 4 along with a US inter-agency delegation that includes representatives from the National Security Council, Department of Defensc, and USAID.

“In Doha, Ambassador Khalilzad will continue to encourage both sides to make tangible progress towards a political settlement that protects the gains of the last two decades,” read the statement.

The US State Department said that the delegation will meet with the Afghan government, political leaders, and civil society representatives, including women’s groups, during their Kabul visit.

“The delegation will underscore enduring US support for Afghanistan’s development and a political settlement that will end the war,” added the statement.

Khalilzad will also meet with leaders from “regional countries” to further discuss the stalled peace process as well as “the potential for increased regional trade, commerce, and development that peace might bring”.

During his Doha visit earlier in March, Khalilzad proposed holding the Istanbul meeting, which was postponed due to the Taliban’s refusal to attend, after it was scheduled to take place in April.

Taliban provincial control

The announcement comes amid rising attacks in Afghanistan ahead of a complete US troop withdrawal.

At least 11 civilians, including children, were killed on Saturday after a landmine caused their vehicle to exploded in northern Afghanistan, with the local government blaming the Taliban for the incident despite no group claiming the attack.

That occurred hours before senior Taliban leaders and UN officials met in Qatar to discuss the Afghan peace process, where the militant group “reiterated strong commitment to the Afghan peace process in the meeting” with UN officials.

Taliban militants also killed eight people during an assault targeting Afghan security forces in the northern province of Baghlan on Saturday, further risking the outcome of the stalled peace process.

Officials said the Taliban have also captured another district in the eastern province of Nuristan, adding to two other districts seized by militant group seized on June 4.

Read also: Top Afghan negotiators to head to Qatar for peace talks

According to a recent UN report, experts at the intergovernmental organisation said that the land control comes as part of the Taliban’s apparent attempts to strengthen its military position in Afghanistan.

The report warned that the US and NATO troop withdrawal, scheduled to be completed on September 11th, will further challenge Afghan forces “by limiting aerial operations with fewer drones and radar and surveillance capabilities, less logistical support and artillery, as well as a disruption in training”.

It also said that the Taliban has been responsible for the majority of Kabul’s targeted assassinations, which “appear to be undertaken with the objective of weakening the capacity of the government and intimidating civil society”.

“Taliban rhetoric and reports of active Taliban preparations for the spring fighting season indicate the group is likely to increase military operations for 2021, whether or not a spring offensive is announced,” the UN report said.

Troop withdrawal

The US and the Taliban signed a “historic” agreement in February last year during meetings in Qatar. Washington agreed to pull out its remaining troops from Kabul as long as the militant group stops its violence and cooperation with Al-Qaeda.

The Joe Biden administration later decided to push the deadline to September 11th given ongoing deadly attacks by the Taliban.

According to the US Central Command, the troop withdrawal is now 30-to-44% complete.

President Biden has been keen on ending America’s longest-fought war, which began weeks after the September 11 attacks in the US in alleged efforts to fight Al Qaeda.

Then-militant leader Osama bin Laden was later killed in Pakistan in 2011 under the President Barak Obama administration, when Biden served as vice president.

Qatar has been facilitating the ongoing Afghan Peace Process since September last year with hopes to establish peace and stability in Kabul after decades of conflict. However, no major progress has yet to be reported.

As it stands, the surge in violence poses a risk to the already fragile peace talks.

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