The US diplomat leading talks with the Taliban said that any US troop withdrawal would be dependent on conditions on the ground, and not on any particular timetable.
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who has spoken extensively with the Taliban in recent weeks also told an audience at the US Institute of Peace in Washington that the timing of a peace settlement from America`s point of view is the sooner is better. The talks come as President Donald Trump pushes to end the Afghanistan conflict, where about 14,000 US troops are still deployed and which has seen countless thousands of civilian and military deaths.
“There is an election, I know, that makes reaching a peace agreement particularly complicated. But it will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election.”
Elections in Afghanistan had originally been slated for April 20 but were postponed for three months as peace talks progressed. President Ashraf Ghani, who was elected in a fraud-tainted poll in 2014, is seeking a second term.
Khalilzad last week announced a “draft framework” for a peace deal, though he warned that major hurdles remain.
Critics are skeptical for a number of reasons, primarily because talks have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.
Intra-Afghan negotiations are a “key objective” for the US, Khalilzad said, noting the Taliban and the Afghan government “must sit across the table and come to an agreement.”
Additionally, the Taliban have promised not to shelter foreign extremists, but experts say they cannot be trusted and even now are helping to hide such militants. Khalilzad repeatedly stressed the US would not leave Afghanistan without enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure Afghanistan does not become a jihadist safe haven.
“Our vision long term is for an Afghanistan that’s entirely sovereign, independent. If they decide that they don’t want to have foreign troops, we don’t want to stay where we are not wanted — provided that there is no threat to our national security from Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.