US envoy on Afghanistan arrives in Pakistan for talks

Islamabad, PakistanUpdated: Jan 17, 2019, 06:39 PM IST

File photo of Zalmay Khalilzad. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Khalilzad is leading an intra-agency delegation and will meet officials in each country in order to 'facilitate an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan', the US State Department said in a statement. 

US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad Thursday arrived in Pakistan for a fresh round of talks with top civil and military officials during which he is expected to seek Islamabad's help to convince the Taliban to return to the negotiating table to end the 17-year-long Afghan war.

According to US diplomatic officials in Pakistan, the schedule of Khalilzad's meetings will be decided soon and the special envoy will be in Islamabad for one to four days.

They said discussions will largely focus on the Afghan peace process, Pak-Afghan border management efforts and US-Pakistan relations.

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan two days later than expected.

According to Foreign Office Spokesperson Muhammad Faisal, Khalilzad is expected to meet Pakistan's civilian and military leaders during his stay and that he will ask Pakistan to help convince the Afghan Taliban to come back to the negotiation table.

"Pakistan has also maintained we want an Afghan-led Afghan-owned solution to imbroglio," Faisal was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

Khalilzad is leading an intra-agency delegation and will meet officials in each country in order to "facilitate an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan", the US State Department said in a statement. 

The envoy's four-nation trip is expected to end on January 21.

Khalilzad will be accompanied by Deputy Assistant to the US president Lisa Curtis, who is considered as an expert on Afghan affairs, diplomatic sources said.

The US delegation will meet senior civil and military officials to discuss the ongoing Afghan peace initiative, they said.

The US State Department said last week that Khalilzad was visiting India, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan from January 8 to seek the settlement of the Afghan problem.

He has already visited India and met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on January 10.

The US official was in Beijing this weekend and held talks with senior Chinese officials.

The Afghan peace initiative has been moving at a snail's pace due to the refusal of the Taliban to sit for talks with the Afghan government officials.

According to officials, the US delegation will seek Pakistan's assistance for arranging talks between Kabul and Taliban to end more than 17-year-old conflict.

Pakistan has been playing a crucial role in the process and last year released senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from imprisonment, who is reportedly in Qatar.

Baradar was deputy to the late Taliban supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. He was arrested from Karachi in a joint Pakistan-US operation after reports that he was independently trying to conclude a deal with the Afghan government.

India has been a key stakeholder in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. It sent two former diplomats in "non-official" capacity to a conference on the Afghan peace process in Moscow in November which was attended by a high-level Taliban delegation.

The conference organised by Russia was attended by representatives of Afghanistan as well as from several other countries including the US, Pakistan, and China.

India has been maintaining a policy of not engaging with the Taliban and pressing for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace initiative to bring peace and stability in the war-ravaged country.

Khalilzad visited Pakistan in October before flying to Doha, Qatar where he reportedly held talks with the Taliban representatives. 

He has also held three round of talks with the Afghan Taliban in order to reach a settlement that would allow the US to withdraw its army and end a 17-year-old war? America's longest.