Differing accounts of Khalilzad’s meetings with Afghan officials

KABUL (TOLO News): There have been conflicting reports about the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and former president Hamid Karzai. Khalilzad is in Kabul to hold talks with leaders and politicians here on the peace process.

Karzai’s office said in a statement that the US representative “expressed his optimism about the developments and progress” in the peace process, and said he hoped an agreement will be reached with the Taliban.

This was echoed by former finance minister Omar Zakhilwal, also present in Khalilzad’s meeting with Karzai, who in a tweet said he heard “good news” about the peace process:

“Was good news to hear about encouraging progress and the sense of optimism for more.”

But Ghani’s team at the Presidential Palace, tweeting about their separate meeting, said: “Mr. Khalilzad stated that there wasn’t considerable progress in talks with the Taliban and that he (Khalilzad) hoped they will achieve a result in this respect.”

On Friday, Jan. 31, Khalilzad visited Islamabad and met with Pakistani officials including Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other government officials, according to a statement by the US embassy in Pakistan

In Kabul, views on peace are divided between Ghani and Abdullah’s factions. Ghani’s Presidential Palace wants a ceasefire ahead of a peace deal between the US and the Taliban, and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah’s office insists on taking advantage of the current opportunity for peace – which is the Taliban’s willingness for a reduction in violence – for a short period.

“Despite a lack of trust, the two sides are continuing their talks, which are moving on slowly… and they have not yielded to a clear result,” said Sami Yusufzai, a journalist who is familiar with the talks.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, however, has suggested a four-part group of representatives of President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, Hekmatyar himself, and Karzai to get an outcome from the peace process.

“These four sides should sit and talk about peace and agree on a unified stance,” Hekmatyar said in a meeting with tribal elders in his office on Sunday.

Khalilzad also met with Chief Executive Abdullah in and emphasized that Washington is firm on reduction in violence with a clear definition and mechanism as a pre-condition for signing a peace deal with the Taliban, according to Abdullah’s office.

“An inclusive negotiating team was discussed (in Khalilzad’s meeting with Abdullah),” Abdullah’s spokesman Omid Maisam said.

The High Peace Council is insisting on a quick formation of a negotiating team to move the process forward once the two sides agree on a reduction in violence or a ceasefire.

“He (Khalilzad) said their (US-Taliban) talks are not so fast, they are slow, but are effective– and he was optimistic about what has happened so far,” the deputy head of the council, Mawlawi Din Mohammad, said, who added that he was present in Khalilzad’s meetings with Abdullah and Karzai.