US Afghan Peace Envoy Continues Push

US Afghan Peace Envoy Continues Push

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- A U.S. peace envoy remained in Pakistan on Tuesday as part of efforts to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan's 18 -year war, even though President Donald Trump has not expressed any interest in resuming talks with the Taliban.

The envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday and was expected to hold talks with the country's powerful military chief on Tuesday.

Officials in Pakistan, where the Taliban governing council is believed to be headquartered, have been pushing for a resumption of direct U.S.-Taliban talks since they collapsed in early September after Trump halted talks with the Taliban and cancelled what had seemed an imminent deal. Trump's move followed a series of violent attacks in the Afghan capital that killed several people, including a U.S. soldier.

During their meeting Monday, Khan called on all sides in Afghanistan's protracted war to "take practical steps for the reduction of violence," according to a statement.

Civilian casualties have been rising fast in recent months, according to the U.N., which blames both insurgents and U.S. and Afghan government security forces. So far this year, there have been more than 8,000 casualties.

The Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said last week that if the U.S. were to go back and sign the nearly imminent deal with the Taliban, there would be a cease-fire first with U.S. and NATO troops, followed by a negotiated cease-fire between the insurgents and Afghan forces.

"If the U.S. returns to the negotiating table and signs the agreement, then there will be a cease-fire and reduction of violence," Shaheen said.

Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he met with leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, who has mostly dismissed any talks with the Taliban not led by the Kabul government.

But Afghanistan has just come out of a presidential election marred by allegations of corruption and fraud. Nearly a month since the vote, which appeared to have a low turnout, no results have been released. Preliminary results are now expected on Nov. 14.

Ghani and his current partner in a so-called unity government, Abdullah Abddullah, are the leading contenders for president. The two men jointly lead Afghanistan's unity government, cobbled together by the U.S. after the 2014 presidential elections were so deeply flawed that a clear winner could not be determined.

On Tuesday, Ghani's National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, who has a prickly relationship with the U.S., told reporters in Kabul that the government is seeking a month's cease-fire with the Taliban before any negotiations, as well as evidence that the Taliban leaders can restrain their fighters. The Taliban now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.

Mohib also blamed Pakistan for the war and urged Islamabad to sever ties with Taliban. Mohib has been a strident critic of U.S. talks with the Taliban and publicly railed against Khalilzad earlier this year in Washington. Since then, he has been shunned by U.S. officials.

Last week, Khalilzad was in Moscow, meeting with Chinese and Russian representatives.

(KR)