Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, said on Sunday that he hopes “a peace deal is reached before April 20 next year,” according to Reuters. The war-torn country will hold a presidential election on that day.
“Peace and a successful Afghanistan, one that doesn’t pose any threats to itself and to the international community” would be among final outcomes of the ongoing peace talks.
The promising remarks came on the back of his meeting with two Taliban envoys in Qatar, where the insurgent movement has its liaison office. What was on the agenda for the talks remains unclear, but the Taliban had previously announced that it will push for US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and seek recognition as a political force.
The two emissaries were among five senior Taliban members released from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in 2014 in exchange for American Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was imprisoned by the militants, according to AP. All five men are now settled in Qatar, and have been taking part in liaising with the Americans.
Meanwhile, Khalilzad, a Bush-era diplomat, is set to visit Moscow to talk about Afghan reconciliation with his Russian counterparts. “I’ve known Khalilzad for a long time. We’ll meet again – he is planning to visit us,” Russia’s envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said this week.
A Taliban delegation recently flew to Moscow to hold separate discussions on ways to end conflict in the country.
Despite the US’ decade-long efforts to defeat the militant group, Afghanistan has seen a re-emergence of the Taliban in recent years. Washington still has almost 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, who are officially “advising and assisting” the forces loyal to the government in Kabul.
Washington’s own estimates indicate that the Western-backed Afghanistan government has uncontested control of just over 57 percent of the country. Meanwhile, a recent British study revealed that the Taliban are “openly active” in around 70 percent of the nation.