On the eve of the start of the historic peace negotiations between the Taliban and the elected Afghan government, a top American diplomat hoped that the warring factions can come to an agreement on a political roadmap to end the protracted war that Afghanistan has had.
"For the first time in 40 years, Afghans will sit together, the government delegation that includes people who are not part of the government as well as four very distinguished women, civil society, political groups will be sitting with an authoritative Taliban delegation to discuss and hopefully come to an agreement on a political roadmap to end the protracted war that Afghanistan has had," said Special US Representative on Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.
In a conference call with reporters on the eve of the start of the long-awaited Doha peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Khalilzad said that the people of Afghanistan demand an end to the war.
"We support them in that effort. And this meeting tomorrow is one of the key requirements, a product of the US-Taliban agreement which was signed on February 29th," he said. The start of intra-Afghan negotiations can lead to the end of war and ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a threat to any, he said in response to a question.
That agreement had three other elements -- a timetable for phased and condition-based US withdrawal of forces; a commitment by the Taliban that they will not allow terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, to threaten the United States and its allies from the territories that they control and if they became part of a future government that commitment will continue; and a comprehensive formal ceasefire.
That will be one of the subjects of the negotiations between the two sides, he said. On February 29, there was a declaration under which the Afghan government said that territory controlled by it and a post-peace Afghanistan would not allow terrorists such as al-Qaida to threaten the United States.
"We also would like to clarify that these negotiations are an important achievement but that there are difficulties, significant challenges on the way to reaching agreement. This is a test for both sides, for the Taliban and the government, Khalilzad said.
"Can they reach an agreement despite differences, in terms of their visions for the future of Afghanistan? We are prepared to assist if our assistance is needed, but this is a new phase in the diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan. Now we are entering a process that is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, Khalilzad said.
There will be no mediator and no facilitator when Afghans meet with each other. They will be talking to each other. The secretariat of the conference will also be carried out, that function, by the Afghans from the two sides, said the top American diplomat.
Responding to questions, Khalilzad said that there are spoilers who don't want the peace process to take place or to go forward, and there are people who prefer the status quo to a peace agreement.
There are people who prefer the US to remain entangled in a conflict in Afghanistan. A number of players are bad and some are at war also not only with the government but they are at war with the Talibans as well, Khalilzad said.
One such group is Daesh, which has been responsible for quite a lot of violence in Afghanistan and it does not want the peace process to go forward.
Khalilzad said that if there is peace between the Taliban and the government, Afghanistan will be in a stronger position to deal with the smaller groups that are part of the reality of Afghanistan.
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