New Delhi: US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad begins a two-day visit to India on Thursday, his first after being appointed to the post in September 2018. Khalilzad is expected to discuss US plans for withdrawing troops from the country as well as the efforts that are underway to bring the hardline Taliban to the talks table.
The announcement of Khalilzad’s visit follows a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in which the two leaders had discussed stepping up cooperation in Afghanistan. Trump has recently called for increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan. He has urged India to go beyond its existing role in supporting infrastructure development in the war-torn country, preferably by sending troops to improve the security situation in Afghanistan.
Last month, Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare for the withdrawal of up to half of the roughly 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan, according to a report in the Washington Post. This is in contrast to the position taken by Trump in August 2017 when he had unveiled his South Asia strategy and pledged to defeat the Taliban.
Khalilzad “will lead an interagency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from January 8 to 21," the US state department said on Wednesday. “He will meet with senior government officials in each country to facilitate an intra-Afghan political settlement," it said.
In India, Khalilzad is to meet foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and national security adviser Ajit Doval, two people familiar with the development said.
New Delhi supports an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process with the Pakistan-backed Taliban not in government as part of any political settlement that might be reached. So far, the Taliban have refused to talk to representatives of the Afghan government, though they have attended peace talks hosted by Russia and some other regional countries.
As of 31 July 2018, the Kabul government controls only 56% of the country while control of 32% is contested, according to the latest quarterly report of the office of the Afghanistan special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, created by the US Congress.
“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. “Special representative Khalilzad 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," it said.
“The US goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement where every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law. During his last trip in December, special representative Khalilzad reiterated that the only solution to the conflict is for all parties to sit together and reach an agreement on the political future of Afghanistan with mutual respect and acceptance," the state department said.