Published: Mon, February 11, 2019

Mullah Baradar Released by Pak at the Behest of US: Khalilzad

Mullah Baradar Released by Pak at the Behest of US: Khalilzad

The United States (US) diplomat leading talks with the Taleban said on Friday he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan's July presidential elections, though he cautioned he did not trust America's long-time adversary. But he also stressed that many issues remain to be resolved and that it must be a package deal.

Former president Karzai during and his successor Ashraf Ghani had mentioned Baradar would be a force for peace and Pakistan had tried to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the U.S. by releasing him, he added.

The United States boasts a roughly 14,000-troop force in Afghanistan largely working to train and advise the government's security forces as they battle the Taliban for population control in a war long characterized by top US military and Afghan officials as a stalemate. "My overall goal is, at the direction of the president and the secretary of state, not to seek a withdrawal agreement but a peace agreement", he said.

Citing unnamed Defence Department officials, the newspaper said the United States attacks had reached the highest level since 2014, with the surge having started during the fall, The peace talks followed President Donald Trump's announcement that he would begin withdrawing USA troops from Afghanistan and wind down the almost 18-year war.

The Ghani administration has also lodged a complaint with the United Nations against the Russian government for allowing Taliban leaders, some of whom are on a United Nations Security Council sanctions list, to travel. The U.S. military turned its attention largely to Iraq in 2003, and eventually the Taliban were able to regenerate enough combat power to contest key battlefields, mainly in the south.

During the State of the Union address last week, President Trump touched on the ongoing war, which has been mired in a stalemate and is about to enter into its 18th year.

Getting American troops out of Afghanistan, where they have been either fighting the Taliban or advising Afghan government forces since October 2001, is the top priority for the Taliban officials he has talked with, Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad repeatedly stressed the U.S. would not leave Afghanistan without enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure Afghanistan does not become a terrorist safe haven.

Khalilzad said US withdrawal from Afghanistan could only be sought after a peace agreement is reached. The problem is that so far it has led more of a parallel process than a helpful process because the Afghan government has not been at these Moscow-led talks.

Critics have questioned the wisdom of accepting any Taliban assurances against collaboration with al-Qaida, and Khalilzad did not explain how Washington would ensure that any such arrangement were effective. "We have already realized that it is just impossible", he told Sputnik. "Words are not enough", he said. In return, the US has agreed to the possibility of troop withdrawal as part of a package deal.

The US has accepted Prime Minister Imran Khan stance on holding talks with the Taliban as correct, they added.

"Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to", he said.

The Afghans, he asserted, must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about their future of their country.

The current, US-backed Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, boycotted the event.

Top Taliban leader Mullah Baradar who now leads the peace efforts with the U.S., was released by Pakistan at the behest of the Trump Administration, a USA envoy said.

"There has been a positive change" in Pakistan's attitude in recent times, he said.

They "called for the protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles, and to undertake efforts to attract worldwide assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan's infrastructure".

Additionally, he said Taliban officials are willing to take part in a "multiparty arrangement".

But it is tied to a more specific ambition, coming as the United States is negotiating directly with the Taliban. They also contend that a long cease-fire would make it hard to get their troops back into the field if the halt to violence came to an end.

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