Monday Feb 11, 2019
WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat is set to lead a large delegation on a six-nation tour, including Afghanistan, to boost that country´s peace process and bring "all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue," the State Department said Sunday.
The statement said Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who has undertaken extensive recent talks with the Taliban, would head an inter-agency delegation from February 10 to 28.
It was unclear whether the group had already left at the time of the statement.
The itinerary will take the US delegation to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the statement said, adding that Khalilzad would "consult with the Afghan government throughout the trip."
The emphasis on bringing "all Afghan parties together" appeared crucial. US-Taliban peace talks have not included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets, and Khalilzad said recently that intra-Afghan negotiations were essential.
The US envoy has in recent months met several times with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group´s leaders have an office in the capital Doha.
Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped to see a peace deal in place before Afghanistan´s July presidential elections.
President Donald Trump has been pushing to end US involvement in Afghanistan, where 14,000 American troops are still deployed. But Khalilzad emphasised that any troop withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.
Afghanistan has suffered nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and a US invasion following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.