In a series of tweets, wishing Afghanistan a Happy 101st Independence Day, Khalilzad made it clear that all “Afghans yearn for peace and soon Afghan-owned and Afghan-led negotiations should start, a historic and vital step.”
“Afghan leaders from all sides will have to rise to the occasion, put their country first, learn from past mistakes and reach a political agreement. That is the road to ending the war and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” he said.
Speaking on Independence Day itself, he said it is a day that all Afghans take pride in and one that is rightly remembered and celebrated.
“The US joins Afghans in celebrating their independence and will stand with them in their struggle to forge a sustainable peace. We wish Afghanistan independence and peace.”
Khalilzad has been the engine behind the peace talks initiative and has worked hard to get the Afghan government and the Taliban to the negotiating table.
However, intra-Afghan talks have once again stalled after hoped-for negotiations failed to start last week as expected due to the prisoner release issue.
President Ashraf Ghani, who signed a decree last Monday ordering the release of the final batch of 400 Taliban prisoners – of a total 5,000 – has so far only freed 80.
The remaining prisoners, seen as “hardcore”, have become a major stumbling block in the way of Doha talks.
Central to the problem is six inmates – all of whom were behind attacks that killed foreign nationals. The United States, Australia and France have all asked that these inmates not be freed.
On Monday presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said however that the release of the remaining Taliban prisoners will be halted until the Taliban releases government troops.
“We are going to release them. That’s not an issue. But it has to be two-way,” Sediqqi said.
“If we take this bold step, releasing all these guys, all these bad people, why are the Taliban not releasing our captives, which is a very small number?”
AP reported that according to sources within government, the Taliban is still holding about 20 Afghan commandos captive and that the group will not release them until all 400 Taliban prisoners have been freed.
However, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman, said the group had fulfilled its obligations and was not aware of any other security personnel in its custody.