ISLAMABAD - The U.S. chief peace negotiator for Afghanistan met leaders in Kabul Sunday after arriving in the country on an unannounced visit, his first since President Donald Trump halted talks with Taliban insurgents on ending the Afghan war.
Officials said Zalmay Khalilzad was accompanied among others by Lisa Curtis, senior director for South and Central Asia at the U.S. National Security Council.
The visit came on a day when the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) set November 14 as the new day for releasing preliminary results from the September 28 controversy-marred presidential polls
The commission was originally scheduled to announce the first results on October 19 but missed the deadline, citing technical problems and efforts to protect the transparency of the process.
Officials said Khalilzad held separate meetings with incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the two front-runners in the last month's presidential election.
An Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told reporters “U.S. peace envoy Khalilzad met with President Ghani and briefed him about recent developments.” He did not elaborate further.
Moscow, Islamabad talks
Renewed international diplomatic efforts in recent days have raised hopes the stalled U.S.-Taliban talks may resume soon.
On Friday, Khalilzad visited Moscow for a four-party meeting with Russian and counterparts from China as well as Pakistan to review efforts the countries are jointly making to promote a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war.
A post-meeting statement said participants stressed the need for all parties to the Afghan conflict to immediately reduce violence to “create an environment conducive” for peace negotiations. Russia,
It noted Russia, China and Pakistan expressed their support for “the earliest resumption of negotiation process and reaching an agreement” between the U.S. and the Taliban, saying it will pave the way for launching intra-Afghan talks.
In early October, Islamabad hosted informal talks between Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators. While the negotiating sides did not publicly discuss or even confirm the interaction, Pakistani officials said they had facilitated the meetings to help resurrect the U.S.-Taliban dialogue.
The draft agreement Khalilzad negotiated with the Taliban before the dialogue collapsed had required insurgents to engage in intra-Afghan negotiations to permanently end decades of hostilities and prevent transnational terrorist groups from using Afghan soil as a sanctuary in future. In return, U.S. and allied nations would withdraw their troops from the country.
The Taliban insists the agreement was just awaiting signatures from the two adversaries in presence of international guarantors and the signing ceremony was to be hosted by Qatar, which played host to the U.S.-Taliban talks, just before Trump declared the process “dead.”
Insurgent officials in recent days have repeatedly urged the U.S. to return to the negotiating table and conclude the deal.
The Taliban maintains it will engage in internal Afghan negotiations only after foreign troops leave the country and has ruled out talks with the existing Kabul government, denouncing it as an American puppet.
China, meanwhile, has invited Taliban representatives and delegates from Afghanistan, including government officials, for an intra-Afghan conference.
The two-day event was originally scheduled for October 28 in Beijing but it has now been delayed for unclear reasons.
“The Beijing conference is not a negotiation. It is just a dialog, and may or may not be effective. We are working on the participants’ list and will soon share it with the Chinese government,” said Afghan Presidential spokesman Sediqqi while talking to reporters Sunday.
He reiterated official stance that for peace efforts to be effective, they must be led and owned by Afghans in line with the Kabul government's plan for peace.
“If you ask Afghans, they will say the peace process should be led by Afghans, and for us our national priority is peace. All of us, including US, should support (the) Afghan peace plan,” Sediqqi stressed.