U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan hailed Turkey’s support to the peace process in Afghanistan, saying both the U.S. and Afghans are “grateful” for Ankara’s role.
Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency in the Turkish capital Ankara, Zalmay Khalilzad said: “Turkey has done a lot in Afghanistan. We are grateful for Turkey’s support.”
“The Afghans have a special attachment to Turkey,” he added. “They are also grateful for Turkey’s role.”
Khalilzad’s remarks came after he separately met with Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov in Ankara.
During Thursday’s meeting, Khalilzad and Kalin discussed the ongoing negotiation process and latest developments in Afghanistan as well as Turkey’s role and efforts in Afghanistan’s national peace process.
“We discussed with my Turkish colleagues what more Turkey can do especially with regard to the peace process,” Khalilzad said.
“The Turks are considering the additional measures that they can facilitate and help Afghans to come to a peace agreement among themselves and for Afghanistan not to be a platform of terror again, to be fully sovereign and independent,” he added, expressing his pleasure to have a chance to talk to Turkish officials.
Khalilzad later wrote on Twitter: “In Ankara, I thanked Deputy Foreign Minister [Sedat] Onal and Amb @ikalin1 for Turkey’s long-standing commitment to @NATO’s @ResoluteSupport mission. Turkey has a deep, rich relationship with #Afghanistan. Turkey is considering what it can do to facilitate the current peace process.”
‘We want Russia to play a constructive role’
Khalilzad also met with Russian envoy Kabulov at the Russian Embassy in Ankara on Friday, the talks lasted more than one hour.
“We both agree that Afghanistan should not again ever become a platform for terrorists, al-Qaeda, ISIS [another name for Daesh] or other international terrorist organizations.
“We agreed [with Russian envoy] that there is a need for guarantees and enforcement mechanisms to ensure that requirement with regard to terrorism,” he said on the meeting.
Efforts to find a lasting settlement to the Afghan conflict have gathered momentum in the last six months with many players, including Russia and the U.S., getting more engaged in the peace process.
Moscow hosted two peace conferences within four months between the Afghan government and the Taliban aimed at national reconciliation in the war-torn country.
The U.S. envoy for Afghan reconciliation made frequent visits in the countries involved in the peace process. The U.S. is leading a round of talks with the Taliban and regional stakeholders aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
During the Ankara meeting, the U.S. and Russian envoys also discussed “inter-Afghan dialogue, the need for Afghans to appoint a national team that includes the Afghan government and the urgent necessity that the Talibs to sit with that national team and agree to a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan,” according to Khalilzad.
“We agreed that the region can play an important role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan. We talked about some options how the region could play that role and what mechanism would best serve that.
“The message that we gave, we want Russia to play a constructive role,” he said. “We do not want to monopolize the diplomacy of peace in Afghanistan. We welcome all efforts that promote peace.”
The U.S. envoy also expressed his enthusiasm to have more meetings with the Russian side.
Over Twitter, Khalilzad wrote: “We agreed that all-inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue is essential to advance peace efforts. To move forward, Afghans should name a unified, inclusive & national negotiating team that includes the Afghan government and other Afghans.”
“We also agreed that any final agreement must guarantee that the Afghan soil is never used by international terrorists against any country. Also discussed a potential regional framework to coordinate efforts for peace and deter spoilers,” he added.
Comprehensive, inclusive dialogue
Turning to the peace process in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said that the biggest challenge is now to “start of a comprehensive, all-inclusive dialogue that means the Taliban on the one side and the government, political leaders, civil society, the women on the other side — this new Afghanistan that is coming about since 2001 to get them set across each other…”
Underlining an agreement needed between the Talibs and the government, he said: “We are looking for a formula to set across the table with each other. This is the biggest challenge now.”
In order to overcome this challenge, US special envoy said an Afghan national team needs to be encouraged.
“The Talibs are said, according to various reports, they would be willing to sit with this national team. The government and the political leaders are going to meet and there is a plan for a grand assembly, an advisory grand assembly next month in Afhganistan. I hope before that a team can be agreed,” Khalilzad said.
While the Taliban have held talks with Afghan politicians and U.S. officials, they refuse to recognize or negotiate with the Kabul government — a rough patch that all sides are trying to resolve.
Kabul maintains that any peace plan should be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
Also addressing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, Khalilzad recalled that it is based on helping Afghanistan to stand on its feet, and helping the country in the fight against international terrorists and insurgents.
“We don’t want permanently to be based in Afghanistan. With regard to the post-peace government, we would like to have a positive legacy left behind and a good relation with future Afghanistan,” he said.
Khalilzad stated the it is not a withdrawal agreement U.S. was looking for, but a peace agreement “that will enable the US to reduce forces and withdraw.”
“We are very much open for a positive relationship with Afghanistan in the future,” he added.
The raging Afghan conflict is in its bloody 18th year, with thousands of lives lost and millions forced to flee their homes.