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Afghan Peace Talks Face Uncertainty


FILE - Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, says "there is a lot that is happening in the background" with regard to the four-way talks on ending the conflict in Afghanistan. (W. Asad/VOA)

A senior Afghan diplomat says he remains "optimistic" that peace talks with the Taliban will start within days, dismissing speculation by some officials they will be delayed.

Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, told VOA Friday that "there is a lot happening in the background" to get the talks under way. He said the planned starting date of the first week in March was "indicative" that plans are moving forward.

But a Pakistani security official with knowledge of efforts Islamabad is making to persuade the Taliban's Qatar-based political office to send someone, said "no headway has been achieved so far."

The official, requesting anonymity, told VOA the talks are "not happening this week because no one from their [Taliban] side has yet agreed" to come to Islamabad.

A Taliban political spokesman said last week he was unaware of any planned talks with Kabul.

The four-way talks are expected to involve diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, as well as Taliban representatives.

U.S. support for peace

In a video conference Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Barack Obama stressed U.S. support for a peace process that he said "reduces violence and ensures lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region."

The White House says both presidents intend to use the July NATO summit in Warsaw to reaffirm international support for peace in Afghanistan.

Obama also congratulated Ghani for the progress he has made, including record government revenues and efforts to fight corruption, and praised the bravery and sacrifices of Afghan security forces.

Obama announced late last year that he is postponing the withdrawal of most U.S. forces in Afghanistan one year until he leaves office in January 2017.

U.S. troops are training Afghan forces in taking full responsibility for providing their own security against the Taliban and other militants.

Kenneth Schwartz in Washington contributed to this report.