The US State Department has said that the Biden administration has asked for Pakistan’s continued commitment to the Afghan peace process.
US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad visited Islamabad on Monday for talks on the US-led efforts to seek a negotiated settlement to the long-simmering Afghan dispute.
Ambassador Khalilzad was a key member of the former Trump administration’s Afghanistan team and helped negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban in February 2020.
The Biden administration has retained him, and this was Mr Khalilzad’s first visit to Islamabad as a representative of the new US government.
Briefing journalists after the visit, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Ambassador Khalilzad “thanked Pakistani counterparts for their assistance and asked for Pakistan’s continued commitment to the peace process.” The Trump administration had also acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban talks and had asked Islamabad to continue to mediate between the Taliban and the Kabul government as well. But this marked the first public acknowledgement by the Biden administration that it too has asked Islamabad to continue playing this role.
“Ambassador Khalilzad (made) a relatively quick trip to Pakistan. I understand that he will be based in Doha for some time” but “I wouldn’t want to prejudge how things may unfold in the coming hours and coming days,” said Mr Price when asked for more information on the visit.
“As we have said, we are working with the international community, including in Pakistan; including the actors in Doha, …of course, in Kabul … to encourage progress on the Afghan peace process, including progress towards a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire,” he added.
When asked to comment on US media reports that the Biden administration has presented an eight-page draft peace agreement to Afghanistan’s warring sides for review, Mr Price said: “It is true that collectively we, the United States included, are considering a number of different ideas to accelerate that (Afghan peace) process.”
But he said he was not going to comment on private correspondence, adding that in such talks “at least in the first instance, some degree of private back and forth oftentimes do go hand in hand.”
Reports in the US media say that the document proposes a ‘grand conference’ of Afghan and Taliban leaders to create a new interim government in Afghanistan. The proposed conference would be held in Doha, Qatar, in the last week of March, possibly under the United Nations supervision. The United States would participate in these talks as well. The conference would replicate the format of the 2001 conference held in Bonn, Germany, which selected a leader for Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted following the Sept 11 attacks.
The proposal “reflects a growing consensus” in the Biden administration that peace talks between Taliban and Kabul representatives in Doha “are moving too slowly,” The Wall Street Journal reported.