Khalilzad: No Permanent Ceasefire from Taliban Until Settlement

The Taliban has increased attacks in several parts of the country including Kandahar, Kunduz and Uruzgan provinces.

Meetings between the contact groups from both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations in Doha were not held for the past two days, while clashes have increased in several parts of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the contact groups from both sides met twice but did not reach an agreement about the procedural rules intended to guide the formal talks, which have still not begun since the opening ceremony two weeks ago.

The Taliban has increased attacks in several parts of the country including Uruzgan, Kunduz, Maidan Wardak, Baghlan and Kandahar provinces.

In the past two days, clashes have occurred in the Dehrawood district of southern Uruzgan province, which is about 40 kilometers away from Trinkot, the provincial capital.

The people have fled from the center of Dehrawood, said residents, who added that “more people have been been trapped in the clashes.”

Jalaluddin, the district governor of Dehrawood, said: “The Taliban has come from several provinces and captured some parts of the district and most of the people have been displaced.”

“The clashes are still ongoing now after several days” said a member of the provincial council, Aman Hotek.

The residents said that the routes into the capital of the province have been blocked over the past several years and “transporting the wounded people to the hospitals is very hard.”

Abdul Rahman, who was wounded in the fighting, said: “It was not clear from where the bullets were coming from, and one bullet hit my leg and three other people were also wounded who were close to me.”

On Thursday night, the Taliban attacked some parts of Rustaq Abad area in PD4 of northern Kunduz city, said a resident, adding that the “threats have reached the streets of the city.”

“There are clashes every hour in the city. During the night till morning no one sleeps–in every part of the city there are clashes,” said Feroz Arbabzada, a resident of Kunduz city.

Another resident of Kunduz said: “The shooting started and the mirrors in my shop were broken and one person was wounded here (Kunduz city).”

Jawid Basharat, a spokesman for the Baghlan police, also said that “in the past 24 hours, clashes have started in Baghlan-e-Markzai, Dahna-e-Ghori and Khost district, and so far 20 insurgents have been killed.”

At least three policemen were killed and four were wounded in an attack on a security checkpoint in Takhta Pul district of Kandahar on Thursday night, local police officials said.

However, a security source said that seven police were killed and 4 police were taken captive.

Also, a large number of Afghan commandos were deployed to Maidan Wardak province on Thursday, said the MoD, adding that the troops will “defend residents and maintain better security in the province.”

There are reports that the Taliban have attacked security forces in several parts of Maidan Wardak in recent days.

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking at a virtual event hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on Thursday, spoke optimistically about the peace talks but acknowledged there were challenges ahead.

Asked about the current increase of violence in the country, he said: “We know that a reduction in violence is possible.” He cited the two Eid cease-fires over the past year,  making the point that if there is a will for a ceasefire, one can be implemented.

Both the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban team formed small “contact groups” on the opening day of the talks on September 12. The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.

The regulations for the talks initially had 23 articles. These were reduced to 20 after meetings were held between the contact groups, and the number still may change, say sources.

__________________________

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking at a virtual event hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on Thursday, spoke optimistically about the peace talks but acknowledged there were challenges ahead.

Asked about the current increase of violence in the country, he said: “We know that a reduction in violence is possible.”

Khalilzad pointed to the two Eid cease-fires over the past year to make the point that if there is a will for a ceasefire, one can be implemented.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the Taliban see violence as a key leverage point in the negotiations and are thus unlikely to agree to a comprehensive ceasefire early in the process.

Before this, Khalilzad told the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee that violence in Afghanistan has risen to “unacceptable levels.” Khalilzad said this “decreases confidence in the peace process,” adding that the Taliban would “pay the price” with the Afghan people if they don’t reduce violence levels.

The Afghan peace negotiations that began in Doha on September 12 are a “historic opportunity” that could end four decades of conflict in the country and end America’s longest war, said Khalilzad.

At the USIP event, Khalilzad said the ongoing talks are the “heart of the Afghan peace process,” and “it’s important to be fully aware of the significance of this moment, and to recognize its historic relevance.”

He said there is hope but still a long road ahead, with many thorny issues to be negotiated.

Khalilzad also said that for peace to work in Afghanistan, it also has to have broad regional and international support. To this end, “we have focused in parallel both on the Afghans and on the international community…to achieve peace,” he said.

Peace and stability are the preconditions to significant economic growth and international investment in Afghanistan, he said adding that “economic growth and investment, in turn, are essential to preserving the deepening peace, security and social development.”

The negotiations require true courage and sincere Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation. “This key step puts agency with the Afghans, which is the only way for it to succeed,” said Khalilzad.

Women rights 

Khalilzad said at the US Institute of Peace that “We will work with our international partners to continue to press on the rights of women, and of religious and ethnic minorities. … While the ultimate political settlement is one for the Afghans themselves to decide, the United States and the international community are deeply committed to human rights and women’s rights.”

The Afghans must negotiate a solution that “suits their history and their culture. But we have made it clear we expect the women of Afghanistan to have their voices heard … The international community expects the same,” he said.

Khalilzad said that the US believes that a stable Afghanistan at peace at home and with its neighbors is not just an Afghan priority, but in the interest of the United States, the region, and the international community.

Troop withdrawal 

“We could have withdrawn, we didn’t need anyone’s permission to leave if that’s all what we wanted to do,” he said in his closing remarks. “But the purpose of our diplomacy has been—and the reason for making that conditional—has been to leave a good legacy behind to help Afghans.”

On Tuesday, speaking at the US House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security about the Trump administration’s Afghanistan policy, Khalilzad said that the US will “protect its interests” in all circumstances in Afghanistan and that the “Afghan people will suffer” if there is no peace settlement.

Asked if the Taliban will honor the US-Taliban agreement if US troops are leaving and cannot enforce it, Khalilzad said the reduction in US troops does not mean the US forces cannot carry out their mission. A re-evaluation will be necessary when troops get down to 4-5,000, he said, adding: “I believe we are committed to the terms of the agreement.”

Khalilzad: No Permanent Ceasefire from Taliban Until Settlement