US envoy urges all sides to reduce violence in push for Afghan talks
By Baber Khan Sahel
Kabul, May 21 (efe-epa).- United States’ special envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad on Thursday urged all sides to reduce violence and begin intra-Afghan peace talks as Afghans citizens were bearing the brunt of the decades-long war.
Khalilzad landed in Kabul on Wednesday for meetings with Afghan leaders, including the Taliban, in a push for intra-Afghan peace talks amid a spike in violence that has cast a shadow over of the agreement the US signed with the insurgent group on Feb. 29.
His visit also came days after President Ashraf Ghani signed a power-sharing agreement for a unity government with his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, following months of a post-election political impasse that had hampered any development in the peace process with the Taliban.
Khalilzad wrote on Twitter that he held meetings with Ghani and Abdullah in Kabul to discuss the next steps required to implement the agreement between the different parties to the conflict.
“On peace, we agreed that violence is much too high and there is a need to move urgently to reduce it by all sides,” he said.
“We also agreed on the importance of delivering, and soon, on other commitments made in the US-Taliban agreement and US-Afghanistan joint declaration including the release of prisoners by both sides and the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”
Abdullah, who will lead the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, said Khalilzad expressed hopes for the intra-Afghan talks to start soon.
“I stressed that peace is also an Afghan priority that will need stronger regional & international consensus as well as a reduction in violence & a ceasefire as fundamental steps for talks,” Abdullah tweeted.
Khalilzad also met with Taliban leaders and said that they expressed their commitment to the peace agreement with the US and its implementation.
He said he had three constructive meetings with Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and members of the Taliban political commission.
“I also raised missing Americans Mark Frerichs and Paul Overby as well as our concerns about recent Taliban attacks in Kunduz, Ghazni, & Khost. We discussed their concerns with President Ghani’s ordering offensive attacks,” he said.
He said he told the Taliban leaders that violence “by all sides must fall”. “Innocent Afghans have borne far too much and for too long the costs of this war.”
Afghanistan has seen a major surge in violence in recent weeks.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in a report released Tuesday warned that violence against civilians had seen an alarming increase in April and May this year.
It blamed Afghan security forces for 172 civilian death or injuries, an increase of 38 percent compared to April last year. Taliban attacks caused 208 civilian casualties in April, an increase of 25 percent.
An attack on two mosques in the central Afghanistan province of Parwan killed several worshipers on Tuesday.
The Taliban denied it was responsible for the attack, which came after last week’s militant strike on a maternity hospital in Kabul that killed 24 people.
The US blamed the Islamic State militant group for the attack.
On Wednesday, the Taliban’s supreme Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada had hailed the peace agreement with the US as an “extraordinary accomplishment” that can end the 19-year long war.