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US envoy on Afghanistan starts regional tour after Taliban talks cancelled

Doctor Zalmay Khalilzad, then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, then Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq, attend a transfer of security responsibility ceremony in Baghdad, Iraq, Sept. 21, 2006. (Department of Defense photo by Spc. Michael Pfaff)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has begun a two-week diplomatic tour of Afghanistan and other countries in the region in an attempt to push forward the peace process with the Taliban.

Khalilzad began his latest diplomatic mission on January 8 — the same day that Taliban representatives announced they would not attend peace talks in Qatar planned for January 9 and 10 with Khalilzad and other U.S. officials.

Khalilzad’s tour is meant to take him to Kabul as well as China, Pakistan, and India.

The U.S. State Department says his visits in the region will last through January 21.

In accordance with U.S. policy, the State Department did not say if Khalilzad would meet with Taliban representatives during the tour.

Quoting Khalilzad, the State Department said “the only solution to the conflict is for all parties to sit together and reach an agreement on the political future of Afghanistan with mutual respect and acceptance.”

Khalilzad last met with Taliban representatives in Abu Dhabi in December.

But a Taliban representative in Qatar told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on January 8 that it had “postponed” a January 9-10 meeting with Khalilzad “until further consultations” could resolve an “agenda disagreement.”

Another Taliban source said the disagreement focused on Washington’s insistence that Afghan government officials must be involved in the talks.

He said there also was disagreement on a possible cease-fire deal and a proposed prisoner exchange.

The Taliban has consistently rejected requests from regional powers to allow Afghan government officials to take part in peace talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah reiterated on January 9 that “any peace talks about Afghanistan should be under the umbrella of the Afghan government.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special peace envoy, Omar Daudzai, arrived in Pakistan on January 8 for a four-day visit that is focusing on the Afghan peace process.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi said after talks with Daudzai on January 8 that Pakistan is also trying to get Afghan Taliban representatives to meet with Afghan government officials at the negotiating table.

Qureshi said peace and stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s own national interest because it is necessary for the economic development and prosperity of the region.