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9.2.2019    US seek peace not withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan: Khalilzad

The US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has said the future presence of American troops in Afghanistan would be conditions based as he ruled out a quick withdrawal of troops. “My overall goal is, at the direction of the president of the secretary of state, not to seek out withdrawal agreement, but the peace agreement. Because peace agreement can allow withdrawal. It is not just the withdrawal agreement that we are seeking,” Khalilzad said in his address to the US Institute of Peace. Asserting that to achieve a peace agreement, a number of issues have to be dealt with, he said initially they are focused on two issues: issue of counter terrorism and the other the issue of withdrawal of US forces. “After many conversations, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees, and enforcement mechanism that no terrorist group, international terrorist group or individuals would be able to use Afghanistan, the areas that they control and should they be part of a future government; against the United States as allies and others,” he said. “We will engage with Taliban further to flush out these commitments that they've made,” he said adding that the US and the Taliban have agreed “in principle and a framework for possible US withdrawal as part of a package deal”. US has a similar engagement with the Afghan government, he noted. “Our hope is, our expectation is that once interact can dialogue begins, which is our key objective, that these parallel discussions will be brought together. Even if we achieve success on these two issues, we make further progress, a peace agreement would not be, immediately or shortly are achieved in the foreseeable future without a comprehensive agreement on other issues,” he said. “Nothing is agreed to until everything has been agreed to and the other issues that must be dealt with are issues of a roadmap for Afghanistan political future to end Afghan war,” he said adding that the Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about their future of their country. “All sides tell me that I've talked to that they've learned lessons from the past. That previous governments whether it was a Taliban government or others that dominated Afghanistan and impose its a unique vision by force on others have been a failure. So, the time has come, they say for an inclusive dialogue leading to an inclusive piece,” he said. Acknowledging that that would not be easy, said the United States has offered to do what it can to be helpful if help is needed. “But it's for the Afghans to decide and it’s for the Afghans to have the conversations, to negotiate with each other. The US cannot be a substitute for decisions that they must make,” he said. “We will speak loudly and clearly for the values that we have, the values of human rights, value of freedom, of the press, women's rights, all that we stand for. We'll make sure that they understand that for having a positive relationship in the future with the United States, those values must be respected, those values must be responded to,” he said. Asserting that Afghanistan today is very different than the Afghanistan of 19 years ago, Khalilzad said that it’s a different country and it will take time for the Taliban perhaps to appreciate that. “But the message that they have given me is that they understand that they cannot go back. We don't trust the words of any of the protagonists as such anywhere, but we will do what we can to facilitate it. We would be helpful and be watchful,” said the top American diplomat. Khalilzad said he would ideally have the peace deal before the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan. He said there is reluctance on the side of the Talib to sit down with the government to negotiate the future. But he expressed hope that he will try help overcome that challenge. Khalilzad the timing of a peace settlement from American point of view is sooner the better. “It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July. We would prefer to see a peace agreement before July to bring the Taliban also into the process so that the peace agreement would a facility that peaceful election or a framework for proceeding with regards to the future of Afghanistan,” he said.

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