Khalilzad Back in Kabul after Meeting Taliban in Qatar

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was back in Kabul on Monday where he met with Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah.

The Presidential Palace said that Khalilzad briefed President Ghani on his recent trips and activities and both discussed the next steps in the peace process.

Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said he had a constructive meeting with Khalilzad and his accompanying delegation.

“We discussed the peace process, new initiatives, the latest political developments and steps forward,” Abdullah said in a tweet. “We reiterated our call for a political settlement and acceleration of the peace efforts.”

Political Leaders Meeting on US-Proposed Draft

Most members of the leadership committee of the reconciliation council, which is comprised of the country’s influential political figures, shared favorable views toward the US-proposed draft for peace at their Sunday meeting, a member of the committee said, but added that they were concerned about issues surrounding the country’s future.

Some members of the committee wanted guarantees that neighboring countries would not continue to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs, and that achievements from the last two decades–and the system itself–would be preserved. These questions should be raised with the US, attendees said.

This committee is expected to meet again to discuss the upcoming conferences and the US-proposed draft for Afghan peace.

The meeting on Sunday continued for three hours.

“[Attendees said] this is a draft and it has some good things, but there were questions too,” former intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil said.

The guiding principles for Afghanistan’s future, the structure of a transitional government, and a political roadmap for a lasting ceasefire are the three significant elements of the draft.

The draft states that when the term of a proposed transitional government ends, the future leader of Afghanistan will be elected through a popular vote.

“The issue of participation, the role of the council of jurisprudence, their regulations–for instance, organizations and their fate. These are questions that we should get answers for,” Nabil said.

The attendees at the meeting also agreed that the Afghan republic should thoroughly review the proposed draft for peace and then share it with the United States.

“Another solution or alternative is not available; only the US-proposed draft to open the way for an inclusive government and a political solution to the conflict,” said Faizullah Zaland, a university lecturer.

Meanwhile, a 10-member Taliban delegation led by deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will attend the upcoming Moscow meeting on Afghanistan, spokesman Mohammad Naeem says.

This comes as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan’s Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani met with Taliban negotiators and their deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Doha on Sunday evening.

This meeting follows Khalilzad’s recent visits to Kabul and Pakistan. In Kabul, the US envoy shared a proposed draft for Afghan peace with Afghanistan’s political leaders.

A Taliban spokesman in Doha, Mohammad Naeem, said: “The implementation of the Doha agreement, the current situation of Afghanistan and the ongoing process of the Intra-Afghan negotiations” were discussed at the meeting.

This also comes as the Pakistan special envoy Mohammad Sadiq met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif and Afghanistan on Monday.

Referring to Pakistani envoy Mohammad Sadiq’s trip to Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says Iran has had close contacts with all countries regarding Afghanistan, and that such consultations respect the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, has said that fighting in Afghanistan will intensify sharply and Taliban militants could threaten major cities unless a Biden administration diplomatic push to end the 20-year conflict yields results in the next two months.

Quoted by the Los Angeles Times, the US general said: “If we withdraw and no deal was made with the Taliban, I think the government of Afghanistan is going to be in for a very stiff fight to retain possession of towns and cities.”

McKenzie met with President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on Saturday and both discussed the security situation, the Afghan peace process and the US’s support to ANDSF, the Presidential Palace said.

The New York Times, quoting US, European and Afghan officials, reports that the United States has about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than it has disclosed.

The report says that it adds another layer of complexity to the swirling debate at the White House over whether to stick with a deal, struck by the Trump administration and the Taliban, that calls for removing the remaining American forces by May 1.