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Afghans to approach elections-ongoing talks with the Taliban with equal seriousness: Zalmay Khalilzad

01 April, 2019

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WASHINGTON: US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, while recognising Pakistan’s neutrality in the Afghan peace process, has urged all Afghans to approach the forthcoming elections and the ongoing talks with the Taliban with equal seriousness.

“Enter negotiations as if there were no elections, united as a country, and do elections as if there were no negotiations,” he wrote in a tweet, pointing out that the suggestion came from EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini at a meeting in Brussels earlier this week.

Earlier this month, Afghan­is­tan delayed its presidential election for a second time. Ori­ginally scheduled for April 20, the elections were first delayed to July 20, because of security concerns. And then to Sept 28, apparently to gain time for talks with the Taliban, who are refusing to hold direct talks with Kabul.

“I particularly appreciated Federica Mogherini’s thoughts for Afghans concerned about potential overlap in timing of elections and the Afghan peace process,” he wrote.

Mr Khalilzad, on a multi-nation trip for his efforts of facilitating intra-Afghan talks, also noted that Pakistan has assured Afghanistan it has no intention to interfere in its internal affairs.

“Appreciate Pakistan’s and other regional support for Afghan Peace Process and agree that Afghans have the right to live in peace after a long period of war,” he wrote.

A media outlet reported last week that Prime Minister Imran Khan believes an interim setup in Afghanistan will be better placed to hold direct talks with the Taliban. Later, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs clarified that the media had ‘misinterpreted’ Mr Khan’s comments as he never implied interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

The clarification satisfied the Afghan government as well, which sent back its ambassador to Islamabad who had been recalled to Kabul for consultations after the media report.

Ambassador Khalilzad began his latest peace mission on March 25 with visits to London and Brussels and will also travel to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan and Qatar before returning to Washington on April 10.

Mr Khalilzad said that in Brussels, US, EU and Nato officials talked about “the meaningful political and social gains” in Afghanistan over the last 18 years, especially for women and children, and agreed that those gains “must be prioritised” in the peace process.

“Our shared goal is to reach a peace agreement worthy of the sacrifices made over decades of war. Together we’re committed to achieving genuine intra-Afghan dialogue on a political settlement that ends the conflict,” he wrote.

In a separate tweet, US Permanent Representative to Nato Kay Hutchison also endorsed Mr Khalilzad’s views, indicating that the Trump administration continues to support its special envoy in his dispute with Kabul.

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