Afghanistan peace deal depends on Taliban ceasefire: US envoy

Zalmay Khalilzad says any agreement with the Taliban requires a permanent truce and lasting peace.

    US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul [Omar Sobhani/Reuters]
    US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul [Omar Sobhani/Reuters]

    Any peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban would depend on the declaration of a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the country's long war, the US envoy for peace in Afghanistan said.

    In an interview with Tolo News, Afghanistan's largest private television station, Zalmay Khalilzad said on Sunday the Taliban's demands were focused on the withdrawal of US forces from the country.

    "If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war, not peace," Khalilzad said.

    "Our focus is on terrorism. No agreement will be done if we don't see a permanent ceasefire and a commitment to end the war," he added.

    "We are seeking peace and [a] political settlement... We want peace to give us the possibility to withdraw."

    Khalilzad has signalled progress in the talks being held in Doha between the Taliban and the US government.

    They centre on the Taliban guaranteeing Afghanistan can never again be used as a springboard for attacks on foreign soil, in return for an eventual withdrawal of foreign forces. 

    But the talks do not include members of the Afghan government, which the Taliban view as a "puppet regime".

    'Intra-Afghan dialogue'

    The Afghan-born US diplomat arrived in Kabul on Saturday to meet President Ashraf Ghani ahead of his next meeting with the Taliban in Qatar in the coming days.

    Ghani has convened a grand consultative assembly, the Loya Jirga, on Monday.

    The traditional gathering of elders, religious scholars, and prominent Afghans will see more than 3,000 people gather amid tight security for four days in Kabul to discuss peace in Afghanistan and next steps in the push for direct talks with the Taliban.

    Khalilzad said it was vital all parties communicate in an "intra-Afghan dialogue". Such a meeting was supposed to take place in Doha this month, but it collapsed amid squabbling about the size of the guest list.

    He added Washington was "a bit impatient" to end the war, given its $45bn annual cost to the US taxpayer and the continued toll it takes on US forces.

    The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission known as Resolute Support, which is training and assisting the Afghan government's security forces in their battle against Taliban fighters and armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

    'Leave a good legacy'

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    US President Donald Trump wants to reach an agreement to end his country's longest-ever war, which dislodged the Taliban from power in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

    Intense fighting is still going on all over the country, and while the Taliban are negotiating, they now control and influence more territory than at any point since 2001.

    The US wants "to put an end to their expenses in Afghanistan and the dangers the forces face, but also Washington has a responsibility and wants to end this war responsibly and leave a good legacy", Khalilzad said.

    This is Taliban Country

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    This is Taliban Country

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies