KABUL: US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived in Pakistan on Sunday to restart the elusive peace process, a day after the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Hebatullah spoke about his readiness for talks.
After his visit to Pakistan, which some say has clout over the Taliban, Khalilzad is expected to travel to the UAE, Germany, Kabul and Qatar. Qatar has hosted at least five rounds of talks between Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Khalilzad in the past few months.
In a message issued on the occasion of Eid, Hebatullah said that the Taliban keeps “open the doors of understanding and negotiations” while vowing to fight until foreign troops pull out from Afghanistan. He said that the group was not after a “monopoly of power but wants all Afghans to have a role in it.”
He also gave assurances that the “rights of male and female compatriots will be given to them under the shade of a sound Islamic government” that will be created in Afghanistan in the future.
Hebatullah’s comments are the first on the peace process since Khalilzad assumed office more than six months ago, as Washington’s envoy seeks to end America’s conflict in Afghanistan, its longest war in its history which it began by ousting the Taliban from power.
In a tweet before arriving in Pakistan, Khalilzad hailed Hebatullah’s initiative.
“The Taliban leader’s Eid statement provides some welcome support for the Afghan peace process and desire to participate in dialogue with other Afghans and in a final political settlement that will require power sharing. All good things.”
In his message, Hebatullah did not announce any truce for Eid as happened last year, when the Taliban followed suit after President Ashraf Ghani declared a cease-fire during one of Muslims’ key festivals. He extended it for several more days after that, but called it off when the Taliban resumed their attacks.
A spokesman for Ghani, Shah Hussien Murtazawi, told Arab News that he was not aware of another truce being announced by the government in the coming days.
He could not say what sort of impact Hebatullah’s insistence on a troop pullout will have on the peace process and could not comment about Khalilzad’s trip.
Ghani’s government was apparently infuriated at being left out of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban.
Farooq Bashar, a university professor, said Khalilzad had made no progress during various rounds of talks with the Taliban because the group still insists on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, but recalling the slow pace of talks during the Vietnam war he said there was still hope ahead.
“The issues of peace and national reconciliation are always complicated and take time. The Taliban have their conditions for peace and Washington has its own terms and all sides try to impose their conditions on the others,” Bashar told Arab News.
He said the Taliban have had the upper hand in the talks. In their meetings with various Afghan politicians in recent months, the group showed that it was not relying merely on Pakistan.
Wahidullah Ghazikhail, who runs a think tank, said the prolongation of the talks and its inconclusiveness adds further to the unprecedented political and security instability that Afghanistan has been facing in recent months.
He said Ghani’s focus was not on the peace process, from which he had been left out, but on his re-election for the delayed presidential polls slated for September. He said this posed another challenge for peace.
“Ghani wants that election be held first and peace talks later. … If the election takes place before peace talks, it is clear that Ghani is the winner by having the entire governmental facilities in his hands.”