US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday urged all Afghans, including the Taliban, to work on a roadmap to end the Afghan war this year.
In a series of tweets released hours after the Taliban announced a new spring offensive, the US chief peace negotiator also urged Pakistan and Qatar to condemn the Taliban’s announcement, arguing that an increase in violence will only hurt the peace process that these two states were backing.
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“All sides must end unnecessary violence, and instead engage in intra-Afghan dialogue which leads to negotiations on a political settlement and a roadmap to end the war this year,” he wrote in a tweet.
Mr Khalilzad leads the US team in talks with the Taliban that are held in Doha, Qatar, with Pakistan’s support, which responded positively to a US request to facilitate the talks. So far, six rounds of peace talks have been held in Doha while the seventh is scheduled on April 19.
“On behalf of the United States, I condemn this announcement of a spring offensive, and call on Pakistan, Qatar, and other nations that want peace in Afghanistan to do the same,” Mr Khalilzad wrote.
In Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani described the Taliban offensive as an “illegitimate war,” reminding the insurgents that Muslim religious leaders across the world had “clearly said that the war in Afghanistan has no religious legitimacy and its continuance has no legitimate judgment.”
The Taliban announced their spring offensive, called Operation Al-Fatha, on Friday, declaring that their “Jihadi obligation has not ended yet.”
Even before the announcement, the Taliban had increased attacks on Afghan government targets, killing dozens of soldiers in the past two weeks. A separate roadside bombing near Bagram killed three American soldiers this week.
In Kabul, Afghan government officials announced that they plan to send a 100-member delegation to Doha, which will include government representatives as well, although most of its members will come from outside the government.
Last week, the Taliban announced that they have a reached an agreement with the US to allow Afghan government representatives to join a larger delegation of Afghan civilians and tribal elders.
Ambassador Khalilzad, who leads the US delegation in these talks, welcomed this concession but strongly condemned the Taliban decision to launch a spring offensive as “reckless.”
“It is irresponsible to suggest that an increase in violence is warranted because the government announced a security plan,” he wrote in a tweet.
Kabul says the security plan, called Al-Khalid, followed recent Taliban attacks and aims at protecting government targets and Afghan civilians from such attacks.
“The US and our international partners will stand with Afghan security forces to continue our effort to end the war in Afghanistan,” Ambassador Khalilzad wrote.
“At a time when all Afghans should come together in talks to determine a common future, a call for fighting suggests the Taliban are stuck in the ways of the past.”