Final phase of Afghan peace process begins

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ISLAMABAD: The final phase of the Afghan peace process leading to the withdrawal of the US forces in Afghanistan has begun, as US Special Representative for Afghan peace Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad will now resume talks with the Taliban leaders in Doha after his two-day successful visit to Pakistan.

US President Donald Trump has set a deadline for reduction of troops in Afghanistan before the next election in November 2020. The Taliban have also dropped a hint at a possible peace deal during the upcoming talks in Doha.

President Trump flagged “progress” in peace talks with the Taliban on Friday but again warned that he had the ability to wipe out much of Afghanistan within days, killing millions. “We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re talking,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Trump said the US forces, bogged down for nearly two decades, “could win Afghanistan in two days or three days or four days, but I’m not looking to kill 10 million people.” He made a similar comment in July but this time specified that this would not involve nuclear weapons. “I’m talking conventional.”

At the conclusion of his visit to Pakistan on Friday, Ambassador Khalilzad remarked on his twitter account that peace will require reliable assurances from Afghanistan and Pakistan that neither side’s territory was used to threaten the other.

He twittered, “Peace will require reliable assurances from #Afghanistan & #Pakistan that neither side’s territory is used to threaten the other. Such assurances on top of an intra-Afghan comprehensive peace agreement will allow increased regional economic integration, connectivity & development.”

Khalilzad said he had met with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his visit to Pakistan adding that he had discussed Pakistan’s role in support of the process & additional positive steps they could take.

Meanwhile, in a meetingwith the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday, Zalmay Khalilzad appreciated Pakistan’s wholehearted support to the Afghan peace process and “expressed hope that others would follow in the same vein”.

The meeting was held in the backdrop of ongoing discussions and efforts underway to secure peace in Afghanistan, said the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement. “Both shared the steps taken in this regard and agreed to continue working towards mutually agreed goals,” said the statement.

Gen Bajwa assured Khalilzad that Pakistan will play its role to its “fullest potential” for peace in Afghanistan and the region. A day earlier, Khalilzad also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

During the discussions, Khalilzad outlined the positive momentum in the Afghan peace process and next steps. In the meeting, the prime minister expressed satisfaction over the international consensus on efforts made for stability and peace in Afghanistan.

The prime minister assured the US envoy that Pakistan will continue its role to facilitate the peace process and maintain contact with the US and other stakeholders. Imran said a peaceful and stable Afghanistan was in favour of the region and Pakistan as well.

Prior to meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Khalilzad went into a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the Foreign Office. During the meeting, Qureshi informed Khalilzad that Pakistan would continue to support smooth progress and successful outcome of the Afghan peace efforts, making it clear that the process could only move forward if it remained a shared responsibility.

He shared the outcomes following 7th round of US-Taliban peace talks in Doha and his recent engagements in Kabul. The foreign minister welcomed the progress achieved in talks and the Intra Afghan Peace Conference in Doha in which all the participants agreed upon a basic road map.

A US Embassy statement said, “The role Pakistan has played thus far, as well as additional positive steps it can take also came under deliberation.” “Consolidating peace will require reliable assurances from Afghanistan and Pakistan that neither side’s territory is used to threaten the others”. “Such assurances on top of an intra-Afghan comprehensive peace agreement will allow for increased regional economic integration, connectivity, and development,” it concluded.

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