US Envoy Seeks Peace Deal Before July Vote

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

"But at least if we have significant progress, that will have a good impact with regard to the future and including the elections", said Khalilzad.

On February 5, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Ghani and reaffirmed the American commitment to a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Kugelman said that Russia's involvement in the peace process may be helpful if it can truly spark an intra-Afghan reconciliation process.

Responding to a question regarding the timing of the talks, the militant commander explained that, even prior to the U.S. invasion, the Taliban had asked Washington to engage in dialogue instead of war, the channel said.

Additionally, the Taleban have promised not to shelter foreign extremists, but experts say they can not be trusted and even now are helping to hide such militants. Most disturbed by the development are those who see any alliance such as the tentative rapprochement between the USA and Taliban as being a prescription for terror and a breach of long- term assurances from Washington. "Initially, we have focused on two issues, one on the issue of counter terrorism and the other the issue of us forced withdrawal", he said.

He also served as the US Ambassadors to Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush Administration.

The top State Department official charged with negotiating with the Taliban said he hopes to see an end this year to the almost two-decade war in Afghanistan, calling recent dialogue with the insurgent group encouraging while admitting a cease-fire remains a long-term goal.

"The other issues that must be dealt with are issues of a roadmap for Afghanistan to end the Afghan war". "All sides say they have learned lessons from the past", he said. 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.

"They say they made in a mistake in how they dealt with women the last time", he said.

That would not be easy, he acknowledged.

The US can not be a substitute for decisions that they must make.

Khalilzad said the Afghanistan of today is very different than the Afghanistan of 19 years ago.

"I understand that peace processes are not a straight line". We don't trust the words of any of the protagonists as such anywhere, but we will do what we can to facilitate it.

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"It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July", Mr Khalilzad said, adding that there remained "a lot of work" to do.

But, to date, the Taliban has negotiated only directly with the United States, largely cutting the Afghan government out of the discussion.

In addition to the United States, he said the region has a big role to play in Afghanistan.

The situation also suited Russian Federation, which for at least the past two years has been trying to exert its influence in Afghanistan. "The Moscow talks delegation represents the interests of a group of individuals of one or two election tickets, not accountable or responsible to the people of Afghanistan", said Ejaz Malikzada, external relations officer at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, a Kabul-based think tank.

"But we don't have to wait until then for regional players to play a positive role". He said he hopes that could come soon.

"After many conversations, we have reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban on a framework that would provide guarantees and an enforcement mechanism that no terrorist group - global terrorist group or individual - would be able to use Afghanistan" as a platform for worldwide terrorism, he said.

Khalilzad, who held talks with Taliban representatives four times in the last four months, has expressed cautious optimism about the prospect of a deal, and even announced a draft framework, but stressed nothing had been finalized.