The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the Taliban must change its ways and agree to a cease-fire if peace is to come to the country that has been locked in a civil war for 17 years.
Khalizad, the head of U.S. efforts to force a peace deal with the Taliban, made his comments during a visit to Kabul on April 28.
"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," Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, told the private television station Tolo News.
He added: "Our focus is on terrorism. No agreement will be done if we don't see a permanent cease-fire and a commitment to end the war. We are seeking peace and [a] political settlement.... We want peace to give [U.S.-led forces] the possibility to withdraw."
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support, a NATO-led mission that provides training and assistance to security forces in Afghanistan as they battle Taliban fighters and other extremist groups, including Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
Khalilzad's comments came one day before the holding of a nationwide Loya Jirga, a traditional gathering of elders, religious scholars, and prominent Afghans -- with more than 2,000 people from across the country having been invited to discuss U.S.-led peace efforts.
President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Envoy Omar Daudzai said on April 28 that the Loya Jirga will provide the ground for "intra-Afghan talks" with the Taliban.
Several high-ranking officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, have refused to participate in the four-day gathering. Abdullah boycotted the Loya Jirga on the grounds that his team had not been consulted prior to the decision to hold the assembly.
Daudzai said negotiations are under way to convince Abdullah and others to attend the Loya Jirga, which would lay out the government's negotiating position for future talks with the Taliban.
On April 27, Ghani held a meeting with Khalilzad, who is trying to find a peaceful resolution to the 17-year war.
"Both sides once again emphasized an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, led by the Afghan government," Ghani’s office said in a statement.
'Inclusive' Peace Process
The comments came a day after the United States, Russia, and China said in a joint statement that they have agreed on the goal of withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan and to seek an "inclusive Afghan-led" peace process.
Khalilzad has been engaged in a series of talks with the Taliban in Qatar as he looks to bring the extremist group into peace negotiations with the government in Kabul.
Taliban negotiators have so far refused to negotiate with the government, calling it a puppet of the West, and have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign forces before talks with Kabul can begin.
Khalilzad is on a multination tour of the region and is scheduled to visit Qatar -- the usual site for negotiations with representatives of the Taliban militants.
The U.S. envoy said 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.
With reporting by tolonews.com, AFP, AP, and Reuters