Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

Afghan security forces keep watch at the side of bomb blast in Kabul last month. (Reuters/File photo)
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Updated 01 June 2020

Khalilzad upbeat on chances for intra-Afghan peace talks

  • Khalilzad said the US was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue

WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for Afghanistan sounded upbeat on Monday about the chances for peace talks starting between the Kabul government and the Taliban militant group but suggested further prisoner releases were needed first.
Speaking to reporters, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also sought to play down an independent UN experts report that ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain close despite the Taliban’s pledge to cut such links.
Khalilzad, who helped broker a Feb. 29 US-Taliban troop withdrawal agreement, said the Afghan government has freed 2,400 to 2,500 Taliban prisoners since that pact was reached and the militant group has freed more than 400 government detainees in return.
“We are in a good place,” Khalilzad said, adding that levels of violence in Afghanistan have remained relatively low since May’s Eid Al-Fitr cease-fire. “We are optimistic that finally we’re moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Under the US-Taliban deal — to which the Afghan government was not a party — the United States committed to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan to 8,600 troops by mid-July and, conditions permitting, to zero by May 2021. US troop strength already is down to nearly 8,600, US and NATO officials said last week.
Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 government prisoners were to have been freed by March 10, when talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban were to have begun.
Khalilzad said the United States was trying to help resolve the prisoner issue and “we are hoping that violence will stay low. So with the release of prisoners, we can begin inter-Afghan negotiations.”


Philippines reports 6,352 coronavirus cases, Southeast Asia’s biggest daily jump

Updated 11 min 40 sec ago

Philippines reports 6,352 coronavirus cases, Southeast Asia’s biggest daily jump

  • The Philippine capital and nearby provinces on Tuesday returned under strict lockdown for two weeks

MANILA: The Philippines’ health ministry on Tuesday reported 6,352 coronavirus infections, marking the biggest daily jump in cases in Southeast Asia and after posting a record rise in five of the past six days.
In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases had increased to 112,593, while deaths rose by 11 to 2,115.
The Philippine capital and nearby provinces on Tuesday returned under strict lockdown for two weeks to arrest soaring cases since restrictions were relaxed in June.