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Khalilzad hits out at Taliban for ‘leveraging violence in peace talks’

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KABUL: In a scorching rebuke, US special envoy for Afghan peace Zalmai Khalilzad has lashed out at the Taliban for “intensifying their violence in pursuit of leverage at the negotiating table” with Afghan government.

Khalilzad said the Taliban had intensified the fighting to gain control in the negotiations, but reiterated that there was no military solution to the Afghan crisis.

The US envoy added that he had expected the war in Afghanistan to intensify, but that he was taken aback by the degree the Taliban have advanced on the forefronts.

“Taliban have said they will not attack provincial capitals, and if they do, the United States will hold them accountable,” he said, recalling the militants’ commitment not to attack provincial capitals.

The U.S. department of state said in a statement on Saturday that Khalilzad embarked traveling to South and Central Asia as well as the Middle East. “In his travel, Ambassador Khalilzad will continue to engage in determined diplomacy and the pursuit of a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban,” the statement added. “As part of the United States’ ongoing support of the peace process, he will work with all parties and with regional and international stakeholders to further advance a consensus on a political settlement.”

The U.S. department of state urged the Afghan conflict sides to reach a sooner negotiated settlement. “The sooner, the sides can agree to a negotiated settlement, the sooner Afghanistan and the region can reap the benefits of peace, including expanded regional connectivity, trade, and development,” the state department said.

The escalation of violence in Afghanistan has worried U.S. officials as well.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has called for a negotiated settlement to Afghanistan conflict.

“The security situation in Afghanistan only argues more for international pressure to have a negotiated political settlement to end this conflict, and give the Afghan people they government they want and they deserve. The entire world can help by continuing this push,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who on Saturday spoke with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, sought support for the Afghanistan peace negotiations and Qatar’s role in advancing peace and security in the region.

He also spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi about Afghan peace process.

Qureshi in a tweet said, “I had a call to underscore our desire for a stable and sustainable bilateral relationship. I look forward to continuing cooperation on the Afghan peace process, tackling COVID-19, supporting regional stability, and other key issues.”

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