US-Taliban peace deal condition-based: Top American diplomat Khalilzad

Washington, September 23

The US-Taliban peace agreement is condition-based and its implementation by America will depend on the militant group’s “behaviour” and “just not words”, a top American diplomat has said.

An agreement signed between the US and the Taliban in February in Doha drew up plans for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgent group.

As part of the deal, the US committed to withdraw its 12,000 troops within 14 months. Troops have since been reduced by over a quarter. The Taliban committed to prevent other groups, including Al Qaeda, from using Afghan soil to recruit, train or fund raise toward activities that threaten the US or its allies.

“The agreement is condition-based…if we are to implement the agreement, we have to see behaviour and just not words,” Special US Representatives for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad told the National Security Subcommittee of House Oversight and Reform Committee during a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan on Tuesday.

“Among the alternatives we face, this is the best available given the constraints and alternatives available,” he said.

Khalilzad was responding to a question from Congressman Tom Malinowski who doubted the envoy’s remarks that the Taliban have learnt their lesson and they want good relations with the outside world.

“I have to say it strikes me as incredibly naive. This is a totalitarian movement that seeks power in Afghanistan. Not peace, but power and to base our policy on the hope that somehow it has changed its nature while providing all of these concessions upfront and the only thing that they promised to do is stop shooting at us as we leave,” Malinowski said.

“We’re all for peace and I understand people want to leave but I think what you’re selling us is not peace, it is a fairy tale to make us feel better about leaving Afghanistan,” he told Khalilzad.

In his reponse, Khalilzad said the deal has four elements.

The first is a commitment by the Taliban to prevent any group or individual from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the US and its allies.

“On that, we have seen some progress,” Khalilzad said.

The second is a timetable for withdrawal of US and coalition forces.

“We are on the path to reduce troop to levels to between 4,000 and 5,000 by this fall. Further withdrawals will be determined based on conditions on the ground and delivery by the Taliban on their commitment,” he said.

Third is the start of the Afghan peace talks.

“The talks opened on September 12, a truly historic moment. The Afghan delegation from the parties to the conflict that are sitting across from each other without international mediators or facilitators have the opportunity to bring an end to more than 40 years of war in their country,” Khalilzad said.

The talks are an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, where two warring sides are negotiating a roadmap for the future of their country. The Afghans are yearning for peace, and there is overwhelming support among them for these talks and for a political settlement, he said.

Fourthly, Khalilzad said, the Taliban agreed that the permanent and comprehensive ceasefire would be on their agenda in the Afghan peace process.

“We hope that the current negotiation will soon lead to a significant reduction in violence by all sides…A reduction of violence will help build the trust necessary for these talks to succeed,” he said, adding that the US will continue to press for this objective.

Khalilzad said a political settlement in Afghanistan needs broad internal, regional, and international support.

Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, David F Helvey told lawmakers that the US-Taliban deal has specific provisions of the militant group not attacking US forces, “but we do have expectations of a reduction in violence and the violence that we are seeing is too high”.

Khalilzad said the US and its allies are looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan under which neither side’s territory would be used against the other. The move is part of the US effort to bring peace in Afghanistan, he said.

Afghanistan, for years, has been accusing Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants. Islamabad denies the charge and in turn accuses Kabul of supporting militants fighting Pakistan.

“Part of the challenge (in Afghanistan) is the regional environment, and Pakistan in particular…We…with help from our allies, are looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan that neither side’s territory would be used against the other,” Khalilzad said, responding to a question from Congressman Peter Welch.

“In the negotiations was there any discussion about the fact that throughout our time in Afghanistan, Pakistan in the tribal territories were used as safe havens. And what arrangements are made to diminish or eliminate the threat that comes to the US through the continuation of the Pakistani safe havens?” Welch asked.

Congressman Malinowski said the US-Taliban deal does not preclude them from cooperating with Al Qaeda to attack Americans from Pakistan and the Taliban on both sides.

“We would regard that as a violation, but the agreement is about Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.

Malinowski said the deal explicitly does not say Al Qaeda when it comes to cooperation with terrorist groups, presumably Al Qaeda resisted that. PTI

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