Kabul: Mistrust between the Afghan government and the Taliban, as they both have two different alternative visions for Afghanistan’s future, has slowed down the peace talks, said Us special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an interview with The World.
Khalilzad, who has been at the heart of the efforts to negotiate a deal between the United States and Taliban, said that the Afghan government and Taliban have different expectations in terms of power sharing, and are waiting for the withdrawal to see what the balance of power on the ground would be without the international forces.
“However, I believe that the only realistic option for them is for the two sides to negotiate a settlement,” Khalilzad said.
On the Doha talks, Khalilzad said, “The fact that the Afghan government representatives and the Taliban are negotiating with each other is a historic development in the history of conflict in Afghanistan for the last 40 years. There has been some progress. They’ve agreed on rules and procedures, but the progress has been very slow and substantive negotiations have not gone underway yet, and we would like that to happen as soon as possible.”
On the agreement with Taliban, Khalilzad said that deal with Taliban was to open the door to enter Afghan negotiations and reach an agreement to not attack withdrawing US forces, which according to him, has held up for the last 16 months. He added that commitments on the part of the Taliban with regard to terrorism, not allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by terrorist groups or individuals against the United States or their allies and to enter into negotiations with the government and a comprehensive ceasefire, has also seen progress.
On post-withdrawal scenario, Khalilzad said that the terrorism challenge from Afghanistan is much smaller to the United States and its allies than it was in 2001. “Al-Qaeda is not what it was, and the world situation has changed. We have to adjust our posture to respond to the changed reality of the world. And those were the facts that led the president to decide what he did. Because of an uncertain future, because of the possibility that the terrorism threat could grow, we are posturing ourselves regionally to be able to both monitor and to respond. There will be some diminution in our ability, both with regard to monitoring and responding,” he said.
On reports of Taliban still in contact with Al-Qaeda, Khalilzad said that the United States believes that the Taliban have made progress with regard to the commitments that they have made to the US not to host, not to allow training, fundraising and planning and plotting by international terrorists, individuals or groups, against the United States and our allies from the soil of Afghanistan.
On negotiations with neighboring countries for bases, Khalilzad said that they are making progress.
However, when questioned about the gains made in the field of human rights and women’s rights, Khalilzad said that it is the responsibility of the Afghans to maintain the advances. “We have done a great deal in support of the Afghan people to improve their lives. With regards to the Taliban, they face that choice if they go to political negotiations, a settlement there will be normalcy, legitimacy, end of pariah status. But if they do not, we’ll stand with the republic and they will be isolated. They will be opposed. And so, that’s a choice that the Taliban has to make. But ultimately, the responsibility for Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans,” he said.
On the advances made by the Taliban as soon as the withdrawal started, Khalilzad said that he was not surprised by their move. “The balance of power with the withdrawal has changed at some of those areas — areas that were difficult for the government to protect. They could advance militarily, but would have negative consequences that could produce the very circumstances that they say they do not want, which is a long war,” he said.
On full departure from Afghanistan, Khalilzad said that the United States is not leaving Afghanistan and will engage and remain fully focused with a lot of energy to help Afghans achieve peace, adding that a negotiated political settlement is the only answer to the war in Afghanistan.