U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has urged a reduction in violence "by all sides" in Afghanistan, saying innocent Afghans are bearing too much of the brunt of the war.
Khalilzad, the architect of a February agreement with the Taliban clearing the way for a U.S. troop withdrawal, met Taliban leaders in Qatar on May 20, hours after meeting Afghan government leaders in Kabul.
"On violence, I told the Talibs, violence by all sides must fall," Khalilzad said on Twitter, adding that he also met with the Taliban's political chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada released a statement on May 20 for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, calling for progress on peace but also telling his fighters to stay "focused on their objectives" and "consolidate ... ranks," which government security officials criticized as inciting violence.
Earlier in the day, Khalilzad met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former rival Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.
Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement on May 17, ending a months-long impasse over a disputed election, and raising expectations that the government would now focus on the U.S.-brokered peace process effort.
The power struggle between Ghani and Abdullah, both of whom claimed to have won Afghanistan's presidential election in September, had been one of the main impediments to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations to end more than 18 years of war.
The talks were to begin on March 10 under the agreement between the Taliban and the United States, which calls for U.S. and foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan following an intra-Afghan deal and in exchange for security guarantees.
Uptick In Violence
Khalilzad's latest diplomatic shuttle comes amid an uptick in violence that threatens to unravel a peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in February.
At least 14 people were killed in attacks late on May 19 on two mosques in Afghanistan where worshippers were breaking their Ramadan fast.
The Taliban denied carrying out the killings, which came after last week's attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which 24 people, included newborns, were shot dead.
The Taliban also denied carrying out that attack, which Washington said bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
Akhundzada said the militants were committed to the deal and called on Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the agreement to end the United States' longest war.
Akhundzada also urged U.S. officials “to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay, and ultimately derail this internationally recognized bilateral agreement."
The Taliban has so far rejected repeated calls for a cease-fire by the Afghan government.