By Kaswar Klasra
Islamabad: U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad departed on June 28 for travel to Doha, Islamabad, and Tashkent.
Ambassador Khalilzad will be holding meetings with higher authorities in Qatar, Pakistan and Tashkent to discuss variety of issues, however, ‘swapping of prisoners’ tops list of his agenda.
“At all three locations, Ambassador Khalilzad will urge support for all Afghans to meet their remaining commitments ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations, specifically reduced violence and timely prisoner releases,” a press note issued from US department of State, stated on Sunday.
It is worth noting that, the Afghan government had released hundreds of Taliban prisoners last month in May following the signing of peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban earlier this year. The peace deal paved the way for an exchange of detainees between the two sides.
Last month in May alone, Ashraf Ghani’s government had released 900 Taliban prisoners as a three-day cease-fire with the insurgents drew to an end. The Taliban had called for the truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Authorities in Doha, Washington and Kabul believe that the prisoner release could lead to new reductions in violence.
As Ambassador Khalilzad departed on Sunday to meet authorities in Doha, Islamabad and Tashkent, Trump administration expects him to make sure reduction in violence as the US prepares to leave Afghanistan.
“Reduction of violence in Afghanistan is only possible as two sides continue to swap prisoners,” a source in Washington told Islamabad Telegraph on Sunday.
“Ambassador Khalilzad is visiting three destinations including Islamabad, to make sure prisoners swap which is a key factor in reduction of violence in Afghanistan. In Islamabad, he is expected to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Pakistan Armed forces General Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss US-withdrawal from Afghanistan,” a western diplomat based in Islamabad told Islamabad Telegraph.
Ambassador Khalilzad is joined by U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) CEO Adam Boehler and his team. Afghan peace, economic growth, and regional connectivity are closely linked and mutually supportive. The delegation will explore investment opportunities and partnerships in a range of sectors to advance the economic recovery of Afghanistan and support sustained peace and stability in the region. Due to the challenges of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ambassador Khalilzad, CEO Boehler, and their delegation will also conduct meetings with Afghan officials throughout the trip remotely via video.
International observers had hoped for a reduction in violence between the two sides following the signing of a troop withdrawal agreement between the Taliban and the US in February.
It was designed to bring peace to Afghanistan, ending 18 years of war since US-led forces ousted the Islamist group from power.
Under the deal, US President Donald Trump announced 5,000 US troops would leave the country by May and he would meet leaders of the Taliban in the near future. US and Nato troops will withdraw from the country within 14 months, as long as the Taliban uphold their side of the deal.
But US officials also agreed to the prisoner swap as a first step in talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban – who are still technically at war.