US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on India visit

US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad begins a two-day visit to India on Thursday, his first after being appointed to the post in September 2018. Khalilzad is expected to discuss US plans for withdrawing troops from the country as well as the efforts that are underway to bring the hardline Taliban to the talks table.

The announcement of Khalilzad’s visit follows a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in which the two leaders had discussed stepping up cooperation in Afghanistan. Trump has recently called for increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan. He has urged India to go beyond its existing role in supporting infrastructure development in the war-torn country, preferably by sending troops to improve the security situation in Afghanistan.

Last month, Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of up to half of the roughly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan, according to a report in the Washington Post. This is in contrast to the position taken by Trump in August 2017 when he had unveiled his South Asia strategy and pledged to defeat the Taliban.

Khalilzad “will lead an interagency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from January 8 to 21,” the US state department said on Wednesday. “He will meet with senior government officials in each country to facilitate an intra-Afghan political settlement,” it said.