Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, told military leaders during a stop in Pakistan that Islamabad continues to have an important role in the Afghan peace process as Washington bids to save the struggling effort to end the long war.
Khalilzad and General Scott Miller, head of U.S. forces and the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, on March 8 met General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other officials at Pakistani army headquarters in Rawalpindi, a statement by the U.S. Embassy said.
Khalilzad has visited Afghanistan and Qatar – where Taliban negotiators are based – over the past week as the administration of President Joe Biden seeks to revitalize talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban militants ahead of a potential withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 1.
The embassy statement said Khalilzad “stressed the need to accelerate progress toward a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”
“Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized Pakistan’s continued important role in the peace process, especially to help Afghans achieve a political settlement and comprehensive cease-fire,” it said.
The Pakistani military said in a statement that “matters of mutual interest, regional security, and ongoing Afghanistan Reconciliation Process were discussed during the meeting.”
The visit to Pakistan comes amid a flurry of unconfirmed reports that Khalilzad and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have floated new ideas to get the peace process back on track.
Blinken set out a series of steps to reinvigorate the process in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani seen by Afghanistan’s TOLOnews. The New York Times also reported on the letter, citing U.S. and Afghan officials.
Afghan Deputy presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Minhapal confirmed to RFE/RL that Ghani received the letter, but declined to give details about its contents.
According to the reports, Blinken wrote that Washington had not decided whether to withdraw the remaining 2,500 American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, as outlined in its agreement with the Taliban. A surge in fighting in past months has sparked concerns that a speedy exit may spark greater bloodshed and chaos.
In the message, Blinken requested Ghani’s “urgent leadership,” The New York Times wrote, signaling that the Biden administration “had lost faith” in the stalled talks being held in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The Blinken letter called for bringing the two sides together for a UN-organized summit with foreign ministers and envoys from the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”
Reuters reported on March 8 that a U.S.-drafted peace plan called for the current government in Kabul to be replaced with an interim administration until a new constitution is created and elections held. A joint commission would monitor a cease-fire
The State Department did not confirm the contents of any proposals. Spokesman Ned Price said it is too early to say how Afghan peace talks were going but that Washington believes progress is possible.
As an important player in the region and an Afghan neighbor, Pakistan is seen as potentially having a key role in any settlement in Afghanistan.