U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is trying to advance a sluggish Afghan peace process with a trip to Qatar, India, and Pakistan, the State Department announced on May 6.
"At each stop, he will urge support for an immediate reduction in violence, accelerated timeline for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, and cooperation among all sides in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan," the State Department said.
Early on May 7, Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman in Qatar, said Khalilzad met with the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Doha. “The meeting discussed the prompt release of prisoners, the beginning of inter-Afghan peace talks and the complete implementation of the agreement [between the Taliban and the U.S.],” he tweeted.
In Pakistan and India, regional rivals whose struggle for influence plays out in Afghanistan, Khalilzad will meet with officials to discuss the peace process.
The trip comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on May 5 that the peace deal was "behind schedule" because both the Afghan government and Taliban have failed to live up to their commitments.
Progress on intra-Afghan talks has been hobbled by a political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who both claim to be the leader of the country following a disputed election in September 2019.
The political deadlock comes as the Taliban have ramped up attacks in recent weeks despite a pledge to reduce violence aimed at paving the way for direct talks with Kabul, which was not a party to the U.S.-Taliban deal.
The Taliban had agreed to negotiate directly with the Afghan government by March, but disputes over mutual prisoner releases have delayed talks.
The core deal is for U.S. and foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan following an intra-Afghan deal in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban not to allow the country to become a haven for terrorist groups aiming to strike abroad.