Khalilzad ‘optimistic’ about start of intra-Afghan talks

Kabul: The US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said he was “optimistic” about the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the abul government.

At a press conference on Monday, Khalilzad said: “We’re optimistic that finally we are moving forward to the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Khalilzad was also hopeful that the violence will stay low in the war-torn country, reports TOLO News.

“I believe we are in a more hopeful moment that validates our approach,” said Khalilzad, citing the Eid ceasefire called for by the Taliban, which was reciprocated by the government.

“By all accounts violence was down dramatically during Eid,” the US envoy said.

“Since the Eid ceasefire, violence has been relatively low. It hasn’t gone back to pre-Eid circumstances or conditions. And at the same time the government of Afghanistan in response to the ceasefire and the reduction of violence that has taken place has accelerated the release of prisoners.”

He also said that about 2,500 Taliban prisoners have been released since the US and Taliban signed the agreement in February.

On the political crisis in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said: “The political crisis in Afghanistan that produced two presidential inaugurations, now it’s been resolved, and the two leaders are working together on an agenda for peace.”

In response to questions about the UN report released on Monday stating that the Taliban has maintained relations with Al Qaida, Khalilzad said: “First, the report I have not read, but from what I’ve heard it covers the period until March 15, and you remember that the agreement we signed on the February 29.

“Two, we are monitoring Taliban compliance with that agreement, which, as you know, stipulates that there will be no hosting of Al Qaida or any other terrorist group that could threaten the security of the US and our allies.

“We believe that there is progress, but we will continue to monitor those activities very closely,” he said.

The UN report states that the Taliban has failed to fulfil one of the core parts of the US-Taliban agreement, namely that it would break ties with Al Qaeda, TOLO News reported.

Al Qaeda has 400 to 600 operatives active in 12 Afghan provinces and is running training camps in the east of the country, according to the report.

Asked about the accelerated US troop drawdown, Khalilzad said: “On the reduction of forces… we are proceeding with the drawdown.”

He reiterated that the agreement was “conditions based” and said whether the troop withdrawal happens sooner or later is based on the “prerogative of the President if he thinks that the conditions have been met and we could do it faster”.

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