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Full Transcript: Khalilzad’s Exclusive Interview After UAE Meeting

Ariana News

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(Last Updated On: December 21, 2018)

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has told Ariana News’ Sharif Hassanyar that they have talked about a three-month ceasefire for addressing the issues through joint intra-Afghans dialogues in the meeting with Taliban officials in UAE.

He said the ceasefire proposal was suggested by Saudi Arabia and UAE officials at Abu Dhabi meeting.

Here is the full transcript of the exclusive interview:

Q: Thank you! For the first question, could you please tell us the latest details on your Abu Dhabi visit and peace talks?

ZK: Well, the meeting in Abu Dhabi was a good meeting. Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in cooperation with each other are trying to bring the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table, and to agree among themselves on the next steps needed for peace. Separate talks took place between these countries and the Afghan government delegation, and these countries and the Taliban. Unfortunately, the Taliban did not agree to meet with the Afghan government delegation, which I think was a mistake on their part, and left a negative impression on the participating countries, including the United States.

Q: You had some meetings with the Taliban. What were their red-lines at the meetings?

ZK: The Taliban have red-lines. They want to reach an agreement on the existence of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Q: What was your answer and what is the red-line for the U.S.?

ZK: The United States’ red-line is that international terrorists like Al-Qaida and ISIS must not be able to use Afghan territory against the U.S. and the international community. To reach this goal, it is necessary to reach an intra-Afghan peace agreement.

Q: If your meetings with the Taliban achieve a positive result, what type of government will the people of Afghanistan get? An Islamic Emirate or an Islamic Republic?

ZK: The formation of the future government system is a decision for Afghans, which they must make for themselves. We are not in favor of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and the Taliban said that they do not want to go back to the situation before 9/11. They said that they want to meet their fellow Afghans and reach an agreement on the political situation of Afghanistan. They prefer to discuss and solve security issues first.  Our position is that if they really want peace… if they intend to solve the problem through political negotiation, and do not want a return to the past forty year history of Afghanistan when one group forced others to accept their political will, that was a failed policy and caused the war to continue. The solution is that they should sit together and reach an agreement on the future political situation with mutual respect and acceptance.

Q: During your negotiations with the Taliban, did you discuss an interim government or postponing the elections?

ZK: No. I understand there are many discussions going on about this issue in the media, but a plan for the political future of Afghanistan is an issue Afghans must decide together. We did not talk about an interim government or postponement of the elections, not even a single sentence or two.  Some want to create tension between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Nothing was said on these topics.

Q: Were a ceasefire and prisoner release discussed in the two-day meetings in Abu Dhabi?

ZK: We talked about a ceasefire.

Q: Was it yours or the Taliban’s demand?

ZK: It was the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s suggestion. They proposed that a three-month ceasefire would provide an opportunity so that all issues could be addressed through joint intra-Afghans dialogues. The Taliban replied that they are not able to decide or agree with the complete proposal and asked for more time to go back and consult with their leadership. We will see what the result will be. We told them, if they want peace or if they are serious about peace, they should sit with the Afghans and respond as soon as possible to the Emirati and Saudi suggestion. If they want to fight or continue fighting, we assured them that the United States will stand with the government and the people of Afghanistan.

Q: You had meetings with GNU leaders last night. What were the details of the meeting and what was the demand of the Afghan government?

ZK: My aim was to update them on my recent trips after I was in Afghanistan, including Russia, Central Asia, Brussels, and the meetings I had in Pakistan and Abu Dhabi. It was a good meeting. Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah were both present in the meeting and it was a good meeting.

Q: To compare both sides, the Afghan government and the Taliban, which side places more emphasis on and is being more honest about the peace process?

ZK: Well, I do not have doubts about the government, as I know Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. The people of Afghanistan, first of all, want peace. The war lasted for forty years; people have the right, anywhere in the world, to have peace, but in Afghanistan, especially… this war has endured for forty years there. The leadership of Afghanistan is in close contact with the people and they have experienced their own problems with their own people, and believe that they want peace. It does not mean peace is an easy task, there are no problems, there are no challenges…there are other issues, elections, for example. But I do not doubt that the people of Afghanistan are demanding peace as a whole. Regarding the Taliban, I have one question. Are they serious or not? They claim that they are serious, so let’s see what steps they take in practice, such as meeting with other Afghans, accepting and tolerating each other, mutual respect… This is still questionable… their disagreement in Abu Dhabi, which I think was a mistake… that will end against their favor. There is one question, how serious they are about peace.

Q: Do you think we will reach a peace agreement before the presidential elections, or if elections are held, will Afghanistan experience more five years of war?  Or will there be a possibility for a peace agreement after elections?

ZK: I think it would be great if we could reach a peace deal before the elections. But it doesn’t only depend on Afghanistan’s government. It depends on the Taliban too.  The Taliban can get ready for peace and elections at the same time. It would be great if a peace deal occurs before the elections.

Q: Do you think it will happen before the elections?

ZK: Yes, why not? I already mentioned the Emirati and Saudi proposal for a three-month ceasefire before the elections. The Afghan government, the Taliban, and other parties shared their opinions on a ceasefire and it will be good if they work and implement it. If this war ends, the sooner the better, as well as ending the killing. We know there are many complexities and challenges, and this war has deep roots. There are not only domestic factors but regional factors as well. That is why, when I say that efforts should be made, it does not mean it will happen immediately. But my personal effort and the United States’ efforts are aimed at bringing peace as soon as possible.

Q: After your meeting with the President and CEO, the National Security Advisor wrote on his Twitter account that no country can form a government system for Afghanistan and that the Afghan government is based on the constitution. Apparently, his tweet indicated his concern after your meetings.  What do you say in response?

ZK: Well, I understand that there are some concerned people and that there are some concerns. Some concerns are right, and some others are due to lack of correct and sufficient information…

Q: Didn’t you meet last night with president Ghani and CEO Abdullah?

ZK: …I don’t know, based on my conversation with Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, they didn’t think that we want to form a different system for Afghanistan. The time for that is already past and Afghanistan is in a different place compared to the past. As I mentioned earlier, there was no discussion of any political issues, including elections, the Afghan government system, or changes in the constitution. We did not talk about these issues. Those who do not have information may have concerns, and sometimes there are some comments, but those who have information and are involved have no reason for concerns that the U.S government wants to represent Afghanistan… First, I am not a representative of Afghanistan. I am representative of the United States government and the United States does not want, it is not its program, it is not its policy, to replace Afghans in the internal affairs that belong to them.

Q: To what extent do you think that the Taliban negotiators are able to make independent decisions in peace talks?  In the past, the Taliban could not decide about peace without Pakistan.

ZK: Well, let’s see what happens. During the last few months, I started a direct effort with Pakistan and regional partners to encourage Pakistan to cooperate in the Afghan peace process, to support the negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban, and to take practical steps in this regard.  I can say that in the Abu Dhabi meetings, Pakistan’s stance was that the Taliban should meet with the Afghan government and talk about their issues. Like the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and UAE, Pakistan can also play a role in peace talks with the Afghan government while the war continues. Let’s see what practical steps Pakistan takes in the coming days and weeks.

Q: For my last question, in your meetings with the Taliban, to what extent were issues such as the field I am working in, freedom of press, and also women’s rights and human rights, considered? Are these issues a red-line for the United States?

ZK: Well, we did not talk about these issues with the Taliban because they are Afghanistan’s internal issues. We discussed security and they wanted to talk about terrorism, and the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan.  I would like to assure the people of Afghanistan that as far as the United States is concerned, the United States is in favor of a democratic system where every Afghan’s rights are respected, where everyone has equal rights and responsibilities under the law. Countries are successful when there is respect for freedom of speech and press, and these are the essential elements for a successful Afghanistan. Without a doubt, the United States supports these issues.

Sharif Hassanyar: Thank you very much for your time and this opportunity.

Zalmay Khalilzad: Thank you too. Stay safe!

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Peace before troops withdrawal: Pakistan PM’s security advisor

Ariana News

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

Special advisor on national security to Pakistan’s prime minister, Moeed Yusuf said Wednesday there needs to be peace and security in Afghanistan before foreign troops withdraw from the country. 

Yusuf said Pakistan was facilitating the Afghan peace process and was optimistic about success around intra-Afghan negotiations, state radio, Radio Pakistan reported. 

According to Yusuf, peace and security in Afghanistan is imperative for the entire region.

Voicing serious concerns about security, he said Afghan soil should not be used for any provocative activities against the neighboring country.

He also said the repatriation of millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan was a serious issue and that Pakistan hoped they would return to their home country as soon as possible. 

Yusuf’s interview coincided with the High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman, Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Islamabad where the peace process has come under scrutiny. 

Having met with high-ranking officials this week, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Abdullah has “broken the ice” by visiting Islamabad, thereby ushering in a new era of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Pakistan, which helped the United States to get the Taliban to the talks tables with the Afghan negotiating team, has reaffirmed its support to the peace process this week. 

However, the talks, underway in Doha, Qatar, have stalled, reportedly over two issues – religious jurisprudence and the US-Taliban deal signed in February, which the Afghan government was not party to. 

The Taliban do not recognize the Kabul administration as the legitimate government, claiming it is a puppet government for the United States. 

Under the US-Taliban deal, which was conditions-based, Washington will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by April next year. Already a drawdown has started, with troop numbers down from 13,000 in February to 8,600. 

A further reduction of troops to 4,500 is expected by November.

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Kabul, Islamabad pave way for new era in bilateral relations

Ariana News

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

After two days of back-to-back meetings with high-ranking Pakistani officials, Afghanistan’s peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah will wrap up his official three-day visit to Islamabad on Wednesday – taking home a clear message that the “ice has been broken” and both nations realize the need to strengthen bilateral ties. 

Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah, who had not been to Pakistan since 2008, has so far met with key officials in the country including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. 

He has still to meet with President Arif Alvi.

Discussions between Abdullah and Pakistani officials have shown a paradigm shift in relations between the neighboring countries, which have been at odds with each other for years. 

Speaking at an event at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Abdullah acknowledged Pakistan’s role in helping to get the Taliban to the talks tables, which are currently underway in Doha, Qatar. 

“Pakistan played a critical role in facilitating the talks, and has even a more important role to play here on not only supporting the process through a successful end, but also in standing with the people and government of Afghanistan in building a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood,” he said.

For years, the two countries have had less than favorable relations and on this point, Abdullah said: “After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back.

“We then need to draw the necessary lessons about our gains and losses, threats and opportunities, especially where we could have been today if we had aimed for stronger win-win solutions, reduced tensions, promoted moderation, increased regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, Business to Business and importantly People to People interactions,” he said.

Speaking earlier at the same event, Qureshi called for “recognition of the mistakes of past” and “adding a new chapter to bilateral ties”.

He reassured Abdullah that Pakistan had “no favorites in Afghanistan”, and that Islamabad did not want to “meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”. He said his country respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Qureshi also stated that Islamabad would support whatever consensus emerges from the intra-Afghan negotiations. 

In addition, he said a relationship between the two neighbors based on “cooperation and understanding” was the only way forward and that Pakistan would like to be “friends not masters” of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, Abdullah met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Following the meeting, Abdullah said in a Twitter post he was “hopeful about prospects of strengthening our bilateral relations”. 

He said the two leaders had discussed the need for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and economic growth around “a regional peace dividend”. 

Khan, who has been invited to Kabul by President Ashraf Ghani, said at the meeting he was looking forward to his visit to Afghanistan. 

He also stated that Pakistan will continue to undertake all efforts to facilitate Afghan transit trade and deepen bilateral trade and economic ties. 

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Khalilzad heads to Doha, says world is watching talks closely

Ariana News

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad left Washington for Doha, Qatar on Tuesday to meet with intra-Afghan negotiating teams. 

The US State Department said in a statement overnight that Khalilzad will also meet with stakeholders to discuss increased regional connectivity, trade, and development following a peace settlement. 

“Ambassador Khalilzad will also meet with the negotiating teams to hear updates on their efforts to negotiate a settlement and bring an end to forty years of war,” the statement read. 

Khalilzad also tweeted early Wednesday that he was “headed back to Doha and the region to meet with partners on Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace negotiations and prospects for increased regional connectivity, trade, and development following peace.”

He said in his Twitter post “the Afghan people and international community are watching closely and expect the negotiations to make progress toward producing a roadmap for Afghanistan’s political future and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”

Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started more than two weeks ago but details around progress have been sketchy. 

The teams have yet to reach a consensus on the framework of talks going forward. 

Critics have said however a mediator might be needed to step in as reports indicate there are two sticking points between the teams. 

Last week it emerged there was a dispute over the religious jurisprudence and recognition of the US-Taliban agreement signed in February, which is what led to the current talks and on which the negotiations are based – an agreement that the Afghan government was not a party to. 

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