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US favours greater role for neighbours in Afghan peace plan

WASHINGTON: US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has indicated that America’s peace plan for Afghanistan envisages a greater role for Kabul’s neighbours and apparently that’s why he launched his latest initiative with a visit to Pakistan.

Mr Khalilzad, who was in Islamabad last Sunday, has now completed his consultations with America’s Nato and EU allies in Brussels and is heading back to the South Asian region for further talks.

The US envoy said in a tweet on Thursday that his discussions in Brussels focused on “what economic potentials” could peace in Afghanistan “unlock” for the South and Central Asian region.

“We share a strong conviction on why peace is the priority, how intra-Afghan negotiations get us there,” he said of his meetings with EU and Nato officials.

In Islamabad, Mr Khalilzad talked about “what Pakistan can do to help advance the Afghan peace process”, he said in an earlier tweet.

The semi-official Voice of America broadcasting service, however, reported that the United States “wants… Pakistan to urge [the] Taliban to demonstrate more flexibility”.

Mr Khalilzad, who began a 16-day multinational visit on May 31, will also go to Doha, Qatar, for another round of peace negotiations with the Taliban. The Afghanistan-born US diplomat has already held six rounds of direct talks with the insurgents since the peace process began last fall.

But the US media reported this week that the process has stalemated as the Taliban continue to refuse to sit with Afghan government officials and have also turned down a US demand for an immediate ceasefire.

In return, the United States has refused to discuss a plan for the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops from Afghanistan until the militants accept its demand for an intra-Afghan talks and a ceasefire.

The United States, as Mr Khalilzad indicated, has now devised a regional plan for breaking this stalemate, which assigns greater roles to Afghanistan’s neighbours for moving forward the peace process.

One key element of the new plan is to let the Taliban know that the US and its allies will not start pulling out until all sides reach an agreement on how to bring peace to Afghanistan.

“We went to Afghanistan together, will adjust our presence together and if we leave, will leave together,” Mr Khalilzad said in a tweet after a meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Thursday.

Mr Stoltenberg also stressed this point while responding to Mr Khalilzad’s tweet. “Strong support from Nato Allies and partners (and) to Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for his efforts to make progress on peace in Afghanistan,” he wrote.

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