Khalilzad to visit Pakistan before finalising Taliban peace accord

U.S. Army General Joseph Votel commander U.S. Central Command

He said that he sees himself as a "catalyst" to find a formula for Afghans to sit down with each other and work out a roadmap for a peaceful future.

"We are forced to wage war".

"We always would like Pakistan, like other countries to do more, but we appreciate what they have done so far and I have indicated (as did) Secretary (of State), (Mike) Pompeo and the president that we want to have good relations with Pakistan, better relations with Pakistan", he said.

Pakistan released Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar at US' request to help expedite the Afghan peace talks, Washington's special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said. "The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for worldwide terrorist groups or individuals".

The top State Department official charged with negotiating with the Taliban said he hopes to see an end this year to the almost two-decade war in Afghanistan, calling recent dialogue with the insurgent group encouraging while admitting a cease-fire remains a long-term goal.

As the United States hopes to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban before the Afghan elections in July, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has urged Pakistan to be ready to protect its interests in the region.

"We welcome that. We want them to, to play a positive role", said the U.S. diplomat who has had several rounds of talks with the the Taliban in Doha.

"They understand that they can not go back" to how things were, the U.S. negotiator said.

The spokesperson said that now that the USA is willing to talk, they have chose to engage with them.

"There has been a positive change" in Pakistan's attitude in recent times, he said.

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Five civilians were freed from a Taliban prison after the Afghan army waged an operation overnight in northern Kunduz province, authorities said Friday. "Most of the meetings we have had with the Taliban have not been in Pakistan".

An Afghan analyst, Ahmad Saeedi, said rift within the government and among political parties "will affect Afghanistan and its peace process".

He also said a new constitution will be drafted and "implemented in light of the teachings of (the) Shariah". "But nevertheless, they're not going to be the government of Afghanistan".

If the Taliban were to hold talks with the Kabul government, it would mean that they had "accepted this stooge regime as a legitimate government (even though it was) imposed upon us by aircraft and (the) bombing of invaders", he said.

Sources said that Pakistan's foreign ministry has made the final preparations regarding the expected visit of Khalilzad and the final date will be announced within a few days. "This process does not mean [a] partnership with anyone", he said.

But it is tied to a more specific ambition, coming as the United States is negotiating directly with the Taliban.

"We first and foremost have to put an end to the occupation and then focus on resolving our internal issues".

The main US objective, he said, is ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for extremists like al-Qaida, the group led by Osama bin Laden that launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan. "Their protection was a religious and cultural necessity".

While the USA talks with the Taliban have focused on troop presence and assurances that terrorist networks would not be given haven, Khalilzad said intra-Afghan talks could also deal with human rights, freedom of the press and the role of women, who were harshly oppressed under Taliban rule.

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