US envoy plays down fears of early Afghan withdrawal

Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, right, with Nicholas Kay, NATO’s senior civilian, at the NATO’s 70th anniversary event in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 03 April 2019

US envoy plays down fears of early Afghan withdrawal

  • Khalilzad warns: ‘No one can rule by force’
  • US special envoy hopes intra-Afghan talks to begin soon

KABUL: US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad sought to reassure Afghans on Wednesday over fears that Washington is seeking a hasty withdrawal from the country.

In a wide-ranging interview with US-funded Radio Liberty — his first since arriving in Afghanistan to share details of last month’s peace talks with the Taliban — Khalilzad played down tension between Kabul and Washington over the negotiations.

Last month’s marathon talks with the Taliban focused on the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country, with both the militants and Khalilzad saying that the dialogue — held behind closed doors in Doha — had brought significant progress.

“We would like to assure the people of Afghanistan ... who have concerns about the American pullout that we have no intention of a deal for an exit,” Khalilzad said.

“We are seeking a way for peace in Afghanistan so that it can open the way for the withdrawal of American troops,” he added.

Khalilzad said that Washington hopes to have friendly relations with Afghanistan after the peace deal is finalized.

The special envoy has held several meetings with Afghan leaders and politicians recently. On Tuesday, he traveled to the southern city of Kandahar, his first trip to the province since Washington began efforts to engage with the Taliban six months ago. 

In the interview, Khalilzad said Washington has no preference as to who should run the country, but Afghans needed to know that no one could rule by force.

“The Taliban says it cannot win the war and is ready for a political settlement. America says war is not the solution and a political solution is needed. And the (Afghan) government says the same thing. Eventually, there will have to be some give-and-take so the sides can come to an agreement and end the war,” he said.

Washington was trying to persuade the Taliban to enforce a truce and hoped to reach an agreement on the issue in the next round of talks.

“The Taliban says the issue of a cease-fire will only be addressed when talks among Afghans begin,” he said. “But we are hopeful that intra-Afghan talks will start as soon as possible and that we can agree to de-escalate the war.”

Khalilzad said it would be ideal if a peace agreement could be clinched before Afghanistan’s presidential elections in September. But he said preparations should be made for the election in which President Ashraf Ghani is seeking re-election.

“It would be good if there was a (peace) agreement between the Taliban and Afghanistan before the election,” he said. “And whatever (deal) is agreed among Afghans, including the government, should be applied.”

The envoy is expected to travel to Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Jordan before ending his trip in Qatar.

Ajmal Hoodmand, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad has been trying to say to the government that he has not hidden any details of the talks with the Taliban, and has come to share the information with the president and others. But it is unclear if the government is convinced.”

Ghani wants peace talks to be led by Afghanistan, and Khalilzad seems unable to resolve this sensitive matter, he said.

Mushtaq Rahim, a political observer, said Khalilzad’s trip was part of efforts to normalize relations with Afghanistan following remarks by Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, who publicly accused the envoy of using the talks with the Taliban to become the head of an interim government when Ghani’s term ends in May.

“America and Khalilzad appear to be looking to stabilize diplomatic ties. However, they continue to ignore Mohib for his harsh public criticism,” he told Arab News.

Khalilzad said in the interview that even if the US succeeded in striking a peace deal with the Taliban, Afghanistan would continue to suffer from attacks by Daesh, and would need foreign aid for reconstruction projects.

UK race to succeed Theresa May heats up with focus on Brexit

Updated 17 min 27 sec ago

UK race to succeed Theresa May heats up with focus on Brexit

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Saturday he is seeking to replace May
  • The best-known contestant for the Conservative leadership post is former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

LONDON: The race to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May is heating up, the field of Conservative contenders is quickly growing and the focus is squarely on how to handle Brexit.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Saturday he is seeking to replace May, joining several others who have announced they will run to become the Conservative party’s next leader, and by default, Britain’s new prime minister.
May announced Friday she plans to step down as Conservative Party leader on June 7 and remain as a caretaker prime minister while the party chooses a new leader in a contest that officially kicks off the following week.
She plans to remain as party leader through US President Donald Trump’s upcoming state visit and the 75th D-Day anniversary celebrations on June 6.
Her successor will have to try to complete Brexit — a task that May failed to deliver during her three years in office. While she succeeded in striking a divorce deal with the European Union, the plan was defeated three times in Parliament by British lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
The EU extended Britain’s departure date to Oct. 31 but there still is no consensus among British lawmakers about how or even if the country should leave the bloc.
Even before a new leader is chosen, the Conservative Party is expected to fare poorly when the results of the European Parliament election in Britain are announced Sunday night.
The best-known contestant for the Conservative leadership post is former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has said he will take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 even if no deal has been reached with EU leaders.
Johnson’s willingness to back a no-deal Brexit is already causing some ripples.
Another Conservative contender, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, said Saturday that he could not serve in a Cabinet under Johnson if Johnson wins. Stewart says he could not work for a leader who is comfortable with the idea of a no-deal Brexit.
Stewart complained that Johnson said in a private meeting several weeks ago that he would not push for a no-deal departure but appears to have changed course completely.
Many economists and business leaders have warned that a no-deal departure would have a drastically negative impact on Britain’s economy and also hurt its European neighbors.
The field is likely to grow to about a dozen candidates, with a winner expected to be chosen by mid or late July. Senior Conservatives including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom are among those considering a leadership run.
The Conservative Party chooses its leaders in a two-step process. First there’s a series of votes among the party’s legislators to establish two top contenders, then those names are submitted to a nationwide vote by about 120,000 party members.
The winner becomes party leader and prime minister, although the opposition Labour Party is warning of an immediate challenge to the new leader with an eye toward forcing an early general election.
John McDonnell, Labour’s economic spokesman, told the BBC on Saturday the party would push a no-confidence vote against the new prime minister right away.
“We believe any incoming prime minister in these circumstances should go to the country anyway and seek a mandate,” McDonnell said.
An earlier Labour Party attempt to force an early election failed in January when May’s government survived a no-confidence vote.
The UK’s next general election is set for 2022 unless there is a government collapse.