By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US special envoys for Afghanistan are on a mission to pressure Taliban negotiators in Doha and officials in India and Pakistan to support violence reduction, accelerate intra-Afghan peace talks and work together on a coronavirus virus pandemic, the State Department said on wednesday.
US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s trip came amid fears that a Taliban attack and coronavirus pandemic could face a potentially fatal blow to his stalled efforts to end decades of strife in Afghanistan.
At each stop, Khalilzad “will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerate the time for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation between all parties in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The statement did not reveal the exact timetable for Khalilzad’s trip which began on Tuesday.
This is the second trip he has taken since April 12 amidst a pandemic to save the February 29 agreement that he and the second Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, signed for the gradual withdrawal of US troops from America’s longest war. .
A successful initiative can help President A. Donald Trump when he will elect again in November.
Khalilzad, the State Department said, would pressure Taliban officials “for full implementation” of the February 29 agreement.
In New Delhi, a key supporter of the Afghan government, Khalilzad will discuss India’s role in maintaining peace, and he will hold talks on the peace process in Islamabad, the State Department said.
Pakistan has provided protection and other support to the Taliban for decades as part of a strategy to blunt influence in Kabul India, Islamabad’s longtime enemy, according to US officials. Pakistan denies supporting militants.
The US-Taliban agreement calls for the Taliban to free up to 1,000 government prisoners and Kabul to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners before peace talks will begin on March 10.
But disputes over the speed and scale of the release between the militants and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was not a party to the agreement, helped delay talks.
Negotiations were also stalled by a feud between Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who both claimed victory in disputed September elections, and by stepping up Taliban attacks.
The Taliban have carried out more than 4,500 attacks since signing the February 29 agreement, according to data seen by Reuters. The hardest hit provinces were the provinces with the most COVID-19 infections. Militants blame Kabul and the United States for increasing violence.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler and Matthew Lewis)
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