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US Envoy Calls for Timely Resumption of Intra-Afghan Peace Talks

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The U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has asked the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government to swiftly resume peace talks after their mutually agreed three-week break starting Monday.

The two Afghan warring sides have been engaged in U.S.-brokered direct negotiations in Doha, Qatar, since September and paused the process for internal consultations ahead of their return to the table on January 5. Both negotiating teams confirmed they had exchanged "preliminary lists of agenda items" to be discussed when talks restart.

“Tragically, the war continues. The need for a political settlement, reduction in violence, and a ceasefire remain urgent,” Khalilzad said in a series of tweets Monday. “Given how much is at stake, it is imperative that there [are] no delays in resumption of talks and they must resume on Jan 5 as agreed,” he said.

The intra-Afghan negotiations stemmed from of a landmark troop withdrawal agreement the Trump administration sealed with the Taliban in February.

The deal, negotiated and signed by Khalilzad, is aimed at winding down the 19-year-old Afghan war, the longest overseas military intervention in U.S. history.

Khalilzad’s call for the timely resumption of intra-Afghan negotiations came amid fierce fighting between Afghan forces and insurgents in recent days, killing dozens of combatants on both sides and civilians.

On Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani backed calls from his aides for the next round of peace negotiations with the Taliban to be held at home and not in Doha, where the insurgent group maintains its political office.

“We would prefer the second round of peace talks to take place inside Afghanistan… It is not appropriate to insist on holding talks in luxurious hotels,” Ghani was quoted as telling a Cabinet meeting in Kabul.

The Taliban vehemently oppose such calls because they denounce the Afghan government as an illegitimate entity and a product of the U.S.-led foreign occupation of the country.

The U.S.-Taliban pact has reduced the number of American troops in Afghanistan to 4,500 and all the remaining soldiers along with NATO partners are required to be out of the country by May 2021.

Gen. Scott Miller, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, said Sunday he had “orders to reduce the U.S. military presence to 2,500” in line with the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

Under the deal, the insurgent group is bound to fight transnational terrorist groups on Afghan soil and cut ties with the al-Qaida terror network. The Taliban also have pledged to negotiate a political deal and comprehensive cease-fire with Afghan rivals to bring an end to years of war.

Khalilzad visits Pakistan

Also Monday, Khalilzad visited Pakistan where he held a meeting with the country’s military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Gen. Miller also accompanied the U.S. special envoy.

The Pakistani military said in a post-meeting statement that the two sides discussed regional security and the ongoing Afghan reconciliation process.

The statement said Bajwa “assured” the U.S. delegation that Pakistan will continue to play its “positive role” in promoting peace and stability in the region. It noted that Khalilzad “appreciated Pakistan's untiring efforts” for facilitating the Afghan peace process.

Pakistan, which maintains close contacts with the Taliban, is credited with bringing the insurgents to the table for negotiating and singing the Feb. 29 deal with Washington and facilitating the ongoing intra-Afghan talks.