Salaam Times and AFP
WASHINGTON -- US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad Tuesday (January 8) embarked on another trip to Afghanistan and nearby regional countries in a fresh bid to negotiate an end to the 17-year-old Afghan conflict.
Khalilzad, who met last month with Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi, will travel to Afghanistan as well as China, India and Pakistan on his latest trip, which will last through January 21, the US State Department said in a statement January 8.
Although the State Department did not say whether Khalilzad will meet with the Taliban again, the statement said he would talk to the "Afghan government officials and other interested parties".
"The only solution to the conflict is for all parties to sit together and reach an agreement on the political future of Afghanistan with mutual respect and acceptance," said the State Department, quoting Khalilzad.
Khalilzad "will meet with senior government officials in each country to facilitate an intra-Afghan political settlement", according to the State Department. "The U.S. goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement where every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law."
On January 8, the Taliban reportedly called off a scheduled meeting with the US representatives because of a disagreement over the agenda. The US embassy in Kabul, however, the denied the reports and once again called on the militant group to sit down with the Afghan government for direct negotiations.
"Reports of US-Taliban talks Wednesday inaccurate," US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass tweeted Tuesday. "Taliban should talk to fellow Afghans as much as they talk to media."
Last month, Khalilzad voiced doubts about the Taliban's sincerity after Taliban representatives refused to meet with the Afghan government's negotiating team for direct talks in Abu Dhabi.
While confident that the Afghan government wanted to put an end to the conflict, Khalilzad told Ariana News on December 20 that he questioned whether the Taliban leaders were "genuinely seeking peace".
Khalilzad's talks with the Taliban last month involved Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the three countries that recognised the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul before its ouster by a US-led coalition.
The Afghan government has called on the Taliban numerous times to engage in direct talks with its representatives in order to reach a peace agreement.
In September 2017, President Ashraf Ghani achieved a peace agreement with Hezb-e-Islami, an insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Recent efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan have increased hope among the Afghan people, who are fed up with war and long for stability and peace.
"The people of Afghanistan have been very proud of the peace process because the current peace efforts are far more serious and decisive than the ones from previous years," Kamran Alizai, chairman of the Herat Provincial Council, told Salaam Times.
How likely are the Taliban to hold direct peace talks with the Afghan government before presidential elections in July?