U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said he does not think Taliban will call for a ceasefire until a political agreement has been reached with the Afghan government during the ongoing negotiations.
Speaking to PBS Newshour on Friday, Khalilzad said the violence was high in Afghanistan but compared to the first six months of the year, the number of casualties, both military and civilians, were down.
“So, yes, the violence is high at this point. And both sides need to bring down the level of violence. And we’re committed, when I return to work with both sides, to get an agreement on reduction of violence,” the envoy said.
When asked what he thought about Taliban’s comments on not calling for a ceasefire till they decide the future of the government, Khalilzad said this was not “unprecedented.”
“I think you’re right that the Taliban will not accept a cease-fire, comprehensive and permanent, until there’s a political settlement and that’s not unprecedented in similar conflicts elsewhere.”
However, the ambassador pointed, “I think they can do a reduction of violence. They have said they will consider it, depending on what the proposal is. The government is supportive of it, too.”
He said the Afghan government have various options to decide a road map, a framework agreement of what the future political system will look like.
“But it is for the Afghans to agree to a political road map. And the fact that they are sitting across the table from each other is unprecedented, that warring — Afghan warring parties have sat together,” he said.
He explained that when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, there was no Afghan meeting. It was an agreement that Pakistan and the Afghan government signed with the U.S. and USSR as guarantors.
“And ever since then, the warring Afghan parties have not sat together. This is an extraordinary development in contemporary Afghan history,” the diplomat said, explaining the importance of the talks.
He also refuted claims that he was under pressure for the negotiations to be productive due to the upcoming U.S. Presidential Elections in November 2020.
“We would like the war to end as soon as possible. This is the expectation of the Afghan people. We have not set any artificial deadline for when these negotiations have to succeed. We are not directly involved in the negotiations. It’s Afghan-Afghan. They did not want a foreigner to be a mediator or a facilitator, to be in the room.”
Khalilzad said the Taliban had said they would respect the rights of minorities and there will be no discrimination against others.
“But that’s still an unresolved issue in terms of an exact formulation and an agreement. We obviously support an agreement that respects the right of all Afghans, whether they belong to one sect or another, whether they’re men or women.”
On the issue of Taliban’s ties with Al Qaeda, Khalilzad said the U.S. will hold them to the February agreement where one of the conditions was to break ties with foreign terrorist organisations.
“And what we do is contingent, in terms of reduction of forces, on what they do. We have seen progress in terms of delivering on the commitment that they have made on terrorism, but that’s unfinished business.
“And we will see in a couple of months, when we reached a number between 4,000 to 5,000 in terms of our troops. We will assess where they are.”
He said the U.S. was “very much committed” to preventing Afghanistan from becoming a platform to threaten America and Washington will take “measures necessary” to protect itself from potential terrorist threats “in Afghanistan or from Afghanistan.”
He was also asked what Americans should think about the Afghan government freeing Taliban prisoners who killed U.S. soldiers.
Khalilzad said it was a difficult decision. “Not happy that it had to happen, but it was required to get to a hopeful place, which is where we are right now.”