US envoy's visit to Pakistan sets up conditions for Afghan peace

By Zia Ur Rehman

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (centre right) conferred with Pakistani officials in Islamabad April 5-6. [Pakistani government/Twitter]

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (centre right) conferred with Pakistani officials in Islamabad April 5-6. [Pakistani government/Twitter]

ISLAMABAD -- US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday (April 6) concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan as a part of efforts to find a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad Friday (April 5) after spending five days in Kabul.

As part of his latest multinational tour, Khalilzad was scheduled to visit Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Britain and Belgium before returning to Washington Wednesday (April 10).

Khalilzad travelled to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan January 8-21 and has since held multiple meetings with the leadership of Afghanistan and other regional countries.

During his last two-day journey to Pakistan January 17-18, Khalilzad met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other top officials.

Meeting with Pakistan leaders

In his most recent visit, Khalilzad conferred with Pakistani civilian and military leaders, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Khalilzad briefed Qureshi on the outcome of recent talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha. He shared updates on his meetings in Afghanistan and throughout the region and on the dynamics of intra-Afghan dialogue, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

For his part, Qureshi said he appreciated Khalilzad's efforts and reiterated Pakistan's commitment to the peace process, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Bajwa and Khalilzad "discussed the regional security situation and the ongoing Afghan peace talks" at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, according to the ministry.

Khalilzad thanked the Pakistani leaders for their assistance in facilitating the travel of the Taliban's negotiating team, the US Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement Monday (April 8) after he concluded his visit.

"Both sides discussed how peace in Afghanistan will also benefit Pakistan and can unlock opportunities for regional economic integration and development," the statement said.

The United States looks to Pakistan to continue playing a positive role in supporting the peace process, it added.

Khalilzad on Twitter thanked Pakistan for its "recent efforts supporting the Afghan peace process and for re-affirming the understanding that ultimately Afghans, and Afghans alone, will determine their future".

Setting up conditions for peace

Khalilzad's efforts are key to the peace process, say security analysts and officials.

During his stay in Kabul, Khalilzad worked with Afghan government officials, opposition politicians and civil society representatives to encourage them to form a representative team of negotiators for a peace dialogue with the Taliban.

Khalilzad's multi-national tour will end days before the start of a new round of talks with the Afghan Taliban in Doha, said Tahir Khan, an Islamabad-based analyst of Pak-Afghan affairs.

"Leaders of the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan's political leadership will attend the round of talks on April 13-14 in Qatar's capital," Khan told Pakistan Forward.

The Pakistani government seeks to resolve the the war in Afghanistan and to establish closer ties, Shahid Khattak, a Pakistani lawmaker and member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, told Pakistan Forward.

He cited Khan's recent efforts to open the Torkham border crossing 24/7 and to allow Afghan refugees to open bank accounts in Pakistan.

"Both countries have suffered badly from the militancy and violence, and their residents need peace and harmony," Khattak said.

Khalilzad in his visits pushed Pakistani authorities to convince the Taliban to include Afghan officials in the peace process, said Bilal Alkozai, a Kabul-based researcher focusing on peace talks.

"Khalilzad has been making efforts to get all stakeholders -- especially the Taliban, Afghan government and Pakistani authorities -- on the same page to pave the way for the settlement in Afghanistan," Alkozai told Pakistan Forward.

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