There will be no enduring peace in Afghanistan unless the Taliban adapt to the changes that have swept the country since they were ousted in 2001, a US diplomat said on Sunday.
Special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading US efforts to forge a peace deal with the Taliban, made the comments in a visit to Kabul as he continues a months-long push for a settlement.
Speaking to Tolo News, Khalilzad said the Taliban recognise their government “made a lot mistakes” when it was in power from 1996-2001, and “they have learned a lot”.
“If the Taliban insist on going back to the system they used to have, in my personal opinion it means the continuation of war not peace,” said Afghan-born Khalilzad, speaking in Dari.
Khalilzad has signaled progress in talks, which center on the Taliban guaranteeing Afghanistan can never again be used as a springboard for foreign terror attacks, in return for an eventual withdrawal of foreign forces.
When the hard-line Islamists were in power, they barred girls from school, executed women on flimsy allegations of adultery and banned a free press, music and many other basic freedoms.
Khalilzad is expected to meet with the Taliban in Doha in the coming days, but critics have lashed peace talks for so far failing to include members of the Afghan government, which the Taliban view as a puppet regime.
The special envoy said it was vital all parties communicate in an “intra-Afghan dialogue”. Such a meeting was supposed to take place in Doha this month but it collapsed amid squabbling about the size of the guest list.
“We have started discussion for the withdrawal of the (US) forces, but for the past few weeks my struggles were focused on providing a ground for intra-Afghan talks,” Khalilzad said.
“That is the first step for further discussion, but there has been no proper progress yet.”
He added that Washington is “a bit impatient” to end the war, given its $45 billion annual cost to the US taxpayer and the continued toll it takes on US forces.
Washington wants “to put an end to their expenses in Afghanistan and the dangers the forces face but also Washington has a responsibility and wants to end this war responsibly and leave a good legacy,” Khalilzad said.