This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban has held consultations in Kabul with Afghan government representatives.
Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip to Afghanistan comes ahead of an expected new round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar’s capital, Doha, reportedly due to begin in mid-April.
Previous talks in the Qatari capital, where the Taliban has a political office, concluded last month with Khalilzad saying “real strides” had been made in efforts meant to put an end to the almost 18-year conflict.
Fereydoun Khuzon, deputy spokesman for the Afghan presidential administration, told RFE/RL on April 1 that he expected the visit of U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to pave the way for the start of direct talks between the government and the Taliban.
Khalilzad, the chief negotiator with the Taliban, has held several rounds of peace talks with the militant group in Qatar. But the Western-backed government in Kabul has complained it is being left out of the negotiations, with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with what they consider “a U.S. puppet.”
Khalilzad appears to have hit the ground trying to smooth those complaints and facilitate a peace process that brings all Afghan parties together in inclusive intra-Afghan negotiations.
“We discussed the urgency of making progress on intra-Afghan dialogue,” Khalilzad tweeted on April 1 after meeting with government representatives with responsibility for the Afghan peace process.
He later wrote that he had “productive” talks with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Foreign Minister Salah Rabbani, adding, “We discussed how the international community can best support them in an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace process.
The growing rift between Kabul and Washington over the talks with the Taliban erupted in public view on March 14, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national-security adviser harshly criticized Khalilzad, a veteran, Afghan-born U.S. diplomat.
During a visit to Washington, Hamdullah Mohib accused the U.S. envoy of “delegitimizing” the government by excluding it from the negotiations, acting like a “viceroy,” and harboring personal ambitions in Afghanistan.
Despite being engaged in talks with the United States, the Taliban continues to stage major attacks on Afghan security forces.
At least 19 Afghan soldiers were killed in a series of Taliban attacks in the Badghis and Sar-e Pul provinces, officials said on April 1.
The militant group’s military success has given them considerable leverage in political talks, the peace advocacy organization International Crisis Group says.