U.S. peace envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad says that although talks with the Taliban have produced the framework for a peace deal there is still a "long way to go" before a final agreement.
Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on February 8, Khalilzad said he was "hopeful" a peace deal could be finalized before Afghanistan’s presidential elections in July, but warned that there remained "a lot of work" to do.
"We are at the early stages of a protracted process," said Khalilzad, who has met with Taliban negotiators for a series of talks in the Middle East in recent months.
Khalilzad held six days of talks with Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha, last month, culminating in the basic framework of a possible peace agreement.
The agreement calls for the Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan and for the United States to withdraw its forces from the country.
The Taliban has yet to make concessions on two key U.S. demands -- implementing a cease-fire and agreeing to negotiate directly with Afghan government representatives as part of an Afghan-led, intra-Afghan peace process.
The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul.
The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.
But Khalilzad said the next phase of the peace process will have to be Afghan-led, saying Washington role’s will "decrease" as Afghans from the warring sides hammer out a possible deal through an "inter-Afghan dialogue."
Khalilzad said there were indications that the Taliban could sit down with government representatives in a "multiparty format."
The former U.S. ambassador said there was "positive change" in Pakistan, which Washington and Kabul have long accused of sheltering the Taliban.
Khalilzad said Islamabad had helped facilitate recent talks between the militants and the United States, although he said Pakistan should "do more."
Russia hosted a second peace conference in Moscow from February 5-6, attracting representatives of neighboring countries, powerful Afghan power brokers, and Taliban officials.
U.S. officials have accused Russia of attempting to muddle the U.S.-backed peace process.
Khalilzad said the Russia-backed talks were "positive" as long as they helped facilitate intra-Afghan talks, not if they "polarize Afghans further."
"I'm not seeking to monopolize" the Afghan peace process, Khalilzad said, adding that regional countries should play a role in resolving the 17-year conflict.