US envoy briefs Afghan president on peace talks with Taliban
Zalmay Khalilzad says he is hopeful of reaching an understanding on reduction of hostilities with Taliban.
The United States’ special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that there has not been any significant progress in his peace talks with the Taliban.
However, Khalilzad said he was hopeful of reaching an understanding with the group on reduction of hostilities, but did not offer any timeframe, according to a statement issued by the presidential palace on Saturday.
After concluding talks in Doha, Brussels and Islamabad, Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Saturday where he separately held discussions with Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah on US-Taliban talks
According to Ghani’s office, Khalilzad hoped the peace talks to end the 18-year war will reach a conclusion.
“We are waiting for a clear response from the Taliban about a ceasefire or a significant and lasting reduction in violence based on a practical mechanism which is acceptable to the people of Afghanistan and the US government,” the palace quoted Khalilzad as saying.
Afghan government leaders remain split on the issue of a brief “reduction in violence” or a comprehensive ceasefire before a final agreement is reached between the US and Taliban.
Last week, Abdullah said no preconditions should be set for peace talks, while Ghani continued calling for a ceasefire.
Earlier on Saturday, the US embassy in Islamabad said Khalilzad was in Pakistan on Friday to rally support for getting an agreement with the Taliban to reduce their attacks as the first step towards peace.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it supported a quick peace deal with the Taliban and repeated Washington’s call for a reduction in violence.
But attacks by the Afghan government forces and its US allies have also raised concerns.
Spike in violence and deaths
Meanwhile, violent attacks in Afghanistan jumped to record levels in the last quarter of 2019 compared with previous years, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released on Friday.
There were 8,204 attacks between October and December last year, up from 6,974 in the same period in 2018 and the highest in the same quarter of any year since SIGAR recording began in 2010.
Stepped up bombings by the US and operations by CIA-trained Afghan special forces – several of which resulted in civilian casualties – have also been criticised by rights groups and some Afghan officials.
Last year, the US air force dropped 7,423 bombs on Afghanistan, up from 7,362 in 2018, according to the data provided by the US Central Command Combined Air Operations Center.
In comparison, 4,361 bombs were dropped in 2017, while 2016 saw 1,337 such attacks, according to the data.
The United Nations blames the increased US bombings as one of the reasons for the rise in civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
For the first time since the US-led invasion in 2001, the UN said Afghan government forces and its US allies killed more civilians in the first three months of last year than the armed groups.
According to Abdullah’s office, Khalilzad told him the US is committed to reduction in violence “with a specific and acceptable definition and mechanism” as a precondition for signing a deal with the Taliban.