US envoy seeks support to reorganize Afghan peace process, warring parties object

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate on the Tolo television channel in Kabul.

By Hamid Shalizi, Charlotte Greenfield and Jonathan Landay KABUL / ISLAMABAD / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan proposed a shakeup of the stalled peace process this week, including an interim government and a key stakeholder conference, according to diplomats. and political sources, but his plan faced immediate objections from warring parties. Afghanistan-born US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is on a visit to Kabul, Doha and other regional capitals, the first since the administration of US President Joe Biden began reviewing his options for the peace process and now that it is running out the time before the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops on May 1. With peace negotiations in the Qatari capital making little progress and violence in Afghanistan increasing, Khalilzad is trying to build consensus around alternative options with all Afghan parties and key regional players, the sources said. “(The United States) believes that Doha is not working and needs momentum and an alternative approach,” said a diplomatic source who is closely monitoring the process. In Kabul, Khalilzad met with Abdullah Abdullah, the top peace envoy, President Ashraf Ghani, and other political and civil society leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai. Three diplomatic sources, two sources from the teams of political leaders who met with Khalilzad and two international sources in Kabul said that one of the envoy’s main proposals was an interim government agreement, called participatory or representative government. A former Afghan government official familiar with the matter said Khalilzad shared a document detailing the power-sharing proposal and reviewed a document that circulated in December. Another proposal was a meeting similar in format to the 2001 Bonn conference, to involve representatives from a wide range of Afghan parties meeting in person as international agencies and diplomats press them to find a solution. Anti-Taliban leaders met under international auspices in the German city of Bonn after the 2001 US-led invasion toppled insurgents from power and agreed on an interim administration and roadmap to form a permanent government and write a new constitution. “We are considering a number of different ideas that could speed up the process,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Friday. “The United States is not making any formal proposals and continues to review all relevant options for the future posture of the force, and it all means everything,” a State Department spokesman said on Saturday. “Ambassador Khalilzad has discussed a number of ways to advance diplomacy, nothing more.” The two international sources said that Khalilzad is calling on the United Nations to take a leadership role and convene the conference. Spokesmen for the UN mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Two of the sources said the conference could be held in Turkey, but a third warned that the location could meet resistance from Western nations and that other countries are being considered, including Germany and Uzbekistan. FUTURE CHALLENGES Khalilzad’s plans immediately met with objections from both the Afghan government and the Taliban. Ghani made a fiery speech in Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday, repeating his refusal to step aside for an interim government. “Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan,” he said, warning that any transfer of power would have to take place through elections as required by the constitution. Two international officials in Kabul said Ghani’s fierce opposition would be a problem for the plan. “The problem here is that Ghani can directly blame the United States … by challenging its legitimacy and considering an interim government, it implies that they are undermining the democratic process,” said one of the officials. A Taliban leader in Doha who spoke on condition of anonymity said Khalilzad raised the possibility of an interim government and a conference with the insurgents’ negotiating team, in addition to calling for a ceasefire or a 60-percent reduction in violence. 70%. “Khalilzad has come up with some ideas and his main agenda is intra-Afghan dialogue to deliver some tangible results very soon,” he said. He said the Taliban would not join an interim government, but was not opposed to one being formed. “We would recommend people of good repute to the interim government and this setup would need to run for at least two years to depoliticize all government departments, including the security establishment,” he said. They could consider reducing the violence, but not a ceasefire, the Taliban leader said, and they had asked Khalilzad to pressure the Afghan government to release 7,000 more Taliban prisoners. “We do not believe that any other conference in any country will help resolve the Afghan conflict,” he said. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said they had not yet seen the plan, but if an alternative to the talks in Qatar was sought, “it is doomed to fail.” Two sources said Khalilzad was expected to visit Islamabad, Pakistan, a key player in the peace process, on his trip. The envoy was the architect under President Donald Trump of a February 2020 agreement between Washington and the Taliban, which envisioned that the Afghan government and the Taliban would negotiate a peace agreement and established a final withdrawal of foreign forces for the May 1st.