'Afghan peace deal before July 20 elections better'

US Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wants peace deal before July vote

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad participates in a discussion on "The Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan" at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington. "What we've achieved so far is significant, but they are two or three small steps in a long journey".

USA peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held six days of talks - perhaps the most productive to date - with the Taliban in Doha last month and is due to meet Taliban representatives again on February 25.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan has failed, Karzai said, adding that the military presence of American troops and their allies on Afghan soil had only led to "many people suffering at their hands".

Led by Taliban's chief negotiator Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, ten senior officials from the group this week travelled to Moscow for talks with Afghan politicians.

And this can not be achieved without the help of regional players, in particular Pakistan, Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said in his maiden public appearance before a Washington audience some six months after he was entrusted with this task by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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"We're willing to help them agree on this", Kabulov said.

A senior Taliban official said Wednesday that the United States has proposed to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, but the USA military said it has received no orders to begin packing up. "My overall goal is, at the direction of the president and the secretary of state, not to seek a withdrawal agreement but a peace agreement", he said.

Khalilzad was a major player in George W. Bush's administration when the United States first invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

If there is no progress towards peace, he added, "the elections will take place, and we are doing what we can to support the preparations for a credible election".

Nonetheless, Tuesday in Trump's second State of the Union, the president suggested some American forces could leave Afghanistan soon and vowed to end the war, stating "great nations do not fight endless wars".

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The Afghans, he asserted, must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about their future of their country. "It will take time for the Taliban to appreciate that, but the message they have given to me is that they understand that they can not go back". So, the time has come, they say for an inclusive dialogue leading to an inclusive piece, he said.

The US can not be a substitute for decisions that they must make.

The roots of the conflict in Afghanistan is not only in Afghanistan but also in the broader region.

Khalilzad said the U.S.is not seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan and will leave if Kabul does not want USA troops there, "provided that there is no threat to our national security from Afghanistan, that there are not terrorist threats from Afghanistan to the United States - that is a red line, and I think that's the policy of the president as well".

Pakistan had not played a positive role historically with regard to the Afghan peace process, but with the release of Baradar, it had shown a positive change in its approach, Khalilzad remarked.

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"We first and foremost have to put an end to the occupation and then focus on resolving our internal issues".

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