The US negotiator on Afghanistan will shortly resume talks with the Taliban, officials said Wednesday, three months after President Donald Trump abruptly halted diplomatic efforts that could end America’s longest war.
Zalmay Khalilzad has arrived in Kabul on the start of his mission, which follows Trump’s trip last week to Afghanistan, where he gave his blessing for a return to negotiations.
The State Department said that Khalilzad, a veteran US negotiator who was born in Afghanistan, would head to Qatar to meet with the Taliban after his meetings in Kabul.
In a nod to concerns raised by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the State Department voiced support for a ceasefire — a key priority for Kabul before any negotiations with the Islamist insurgents.
“Ambassador Khalilzad will rejoin talks with the Taliban to discuss steps that could lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a ceasefire,” a State Department statement said.
In September, the United States and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin pulling thousands of troops out of Afghanistan in return for security guarantees.
It was also expected to pave the way towards direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war.
But that same month, Trump abruptly called the year-long effort “dead” and withdrew an invitation to the insurgents to meet in the United States after the killing of an American soldier.
During a surprise visit to an American military base in Afghanistan last week, Trump said the Taliban “wants to make a deal.”
But the insurgents later said it was “way too early” to speak of resuming direct talks with Washington.
Even during the stall in talks, Khalilzad has in recent weeks continued his whistle-stop tour of various nations with a stake in Afghan peace, including Pakistan.
He recently arranged a captive swap in which the Taliban released an American and an Australian academic whom they had held hostage for three years.
The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime.