Special US envoy on Afghan peace to begin four-nation visit from India
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Special US envoy on Afghan peace to begin four-nation visit from India

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who oversaw the 2001 transition of power after the overthrown of the Taliban government, will be making his first visit to India after he was appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in September 2018.

world Updated: Jan 09, 2019 21:42 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Zalmay Khalilzad,Afghan reconciliation,India visit
Zalmay Khalilzad, US special adviser on Afghan reconciliation, will be in India on his first visit to the country since taking over the post in September 2018. He will also visit Pakistan, Afghanistan and China (File Photo)(AP)

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will be briefing and consulting New Delhi on the ongoing Afghan peace talks in his first visit to India in this capacity starting later Wednesday. He is on a four-nation tour that will include China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Leaving Washington again to continue my work towards facilitating a negotiated settlement to the conflict in #Afghanistan,” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “This time to #India for the #raisinadialogue, as well as Afghanistan, #China and #Pakistan.”

Khalilzad, an Afghan-American diplomat who oversaw the 2001 transition of power after the overthrown of the Taliban government, has been a regular at recent Raisina Dialogue conferences as a participant and a speaker. This time he will be a participant only, as a speaking slot did not work out.

But this will be his first visit after he was appointed Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in September 2018. He has been to the region twice since, but skipped India both times, causing some anxiety in New Delhi.

The state department said in a general announcement Tuesday that the special envoy is heading an interagency delegation and will “meet with senior government officials in each country to facilitate an intra-Afghan political settlement”.

India, which has been deeply invested in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, a role endorsed and affirmed by President Donald Trump in his 2017 South Asia strategy, would like to hear from his progress on his efforts and, equally importantly, like to convey — “hold consultations” — its own views to him.

New Delhi supports an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation effort, as also envisaged by the United States, and has been watching US efforts in the region closely with President Trump seemingly eager to end America’s military engagement there that is in its 18th year and is its longest war.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Trump discussed how to “increase” cooperation between their nation on Afghanistan in a phone call that took place on Monday in the backdrop of reports that the US president was considering a drawdown of troops, from 14,000 to 7,000, according to reports.

The White House has since indicated the president has not made that determination yet. And it has since refused to comment on the discussion — “We are not going to comment on future strategic developments,” said a Trump administration official. The Pentagon has also said it has not received orders to start bringing home troops stationed there.

But The Washington Post has since reported that discussions on a drawdown continue and planners are now considering a much lower figure than the 7,000 reported earlier; in fact, it is supposed to be half that number. There is still no confirmation of these discussions or of the numbers.

“The United States supports the desire of the Afghan people and the international community for a political settlement that ends the 40-year conflict and ensures Afghanistan never again serves as a platform for international terrorism,” the state department said in the announcement of Khalilzad’s four-country tour.

“He will meet with Afghan government officials and other interested parties to support and facilitate an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, empowering the Afghan people to chart a shared course for their nation’s future.”

First Published: Jan 09, 2019 21:42 IST