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Amb. Khalilzad on peace negotiations and reducing violence in Afghanistan

The government of Afghanistan and the Taliban are in the early stages of negotiations representing the most significant attempt yet to deliver peace. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, signed an agreement with the Taliban in February that led to the talks. But violence between the government and the Taliban remains high. Khalilzad joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now: attempts to end the U.S.' longest war.

    The Afghan government and the Taliban are in the early stages of negotiations that are the most significant attempt yet to find peace.

    Nick Schifrin speaks to the U.S. official who's leading the effort.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, as the government and Taliban are negotiating in Doha, the violence between them in Afghanistan is getting worse.

    In just the last few days, government forces have killed dozens of Taliban militants in the east, while the Taliban killed dozens of police officers in the South.

    And, last weekend, Afghan forces conducted airstrikes in a province in the north that is partially Taliban-controlled, killing Taliban militants, but also causing reports of civilian deaths.

    It was seven months ago that special envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad signed an agreement with the Taliban. After a bit of a delay, that led to the negotiations in Doha today designed to end all this violence.

    And Ambassador Khalilzad joins me now.

    It's good to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    You have said that you expect violence in Afghanistan to decrease. But, just to be clear, the February 29 agreement that you signed was not commitment the Taliban to stop attacking the Afghan government.

    So, what leverage do you really have to reduce the violence?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    Compared to the first six months of last year to this year, despite a recent increase in violence, the number of casualties, both military and civilians, are down this year.

    So, yes, the violence is high at this point. And both sides need to bring down the level of violence. And we're committed, when I return to work with both sides, to get an agreement on reduction of violence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Afghan government says there's too much violence. You have just said there's too much violence. The U.S. military says there's too much violence.

    The Taliban have indicated they will not accept some kind of cease-fire in Doha until both sides decide the future of the government, which, of course, will take a long time. So, how sustainable is the peace process as the violence continues?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    I think you're right that the Talibs will not accept a cease-fire, comprehensive and permanent, until there's a political settlement.

    And that's not unprecedented in similar conflicts elsewhere. I think they can do a reduction of violence. They have said they will consider it, depending on what the proposal is. The government is supportive of it, too.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You have been discussing a road map, a framework agreement that would leave some of the longer-term issues of what the Afghan government looks like to the future.

    Does that require the Afghan government to step aside in the installation of an interim government?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    Well, there are various options that they have in front of them.

    But it is for the Afghans to agree to a political road map. And the fact that they are sitting across the table from each other is unprecedented, that warring — Afghan warring parties have sat together.

    When the Soviets withdrew, before their withdrawal, there was no Afghan meetings. It was an agreement that Pakistan and the Afghan government signed with the U.S. and USSR as guarantors. And ever since then, the warring Afghan parties have not sat together.

    This is an extraordinary development in contemporary Afghan history.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Are you under pressure from the White House or anyone in the State Department to announce specific progress before the election?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    No, I'm not.

    We would like the war to end as soon as possible. This is the expectation of the Afghan people. We have not set any artificial deadline for when these negotiations have to succeed. We are not directly involved in the negotiations. It's Afghan-Afghan. They did not want a foreigner to be a mediator or a facilitator, to be in the room.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let me turn to human rights.

    In Doha, the Taliban have refused to say that they respect Shia Islam, which, of course, is the religion of the minority Afghan Hazaras, even though that respect is enshrined in the Afghan constitution.

    So, does that mean that the Taliban are not going to respect human rights going forward?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    They have said, on personal matters, the rights of minorities to — will be respected and there will be no discrimination against others.

    But that's still an unresolved issue in terms of an exact formulation and an agreement. We obviously support an agreement that respects the right of all Afghans, whether they belong to one sect or another, whether they're men or women.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On al-Qaida, one of the conditions of the February 29 agreement was that the Taliban prevent the use of Afghanistan by al-Qaida to attack the U.S.

    But the Taliban have not publicly broken with al-Qaida. What does that tell you about the resistance the Taliban still has to that part of the agreement?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    We hold them to that agreement.

    And what we do is contingent, in terms of reduction of forces, on what they do. We have seen progress in terms of delivering on the commitment that they have made on terrorism, but that's unfinished business. And we will see in a couple of months, when we reached a number between 4,000 to 5,000 in terms of our troops. We will assess where they are.

    And we are very much committed to preventing Afghanistan from being a platform to threaten us. And we will take measures necessary to protect the United States from potential terrorist threats in Afghanistan or from Afghanistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, finally, Ambassador, in the time I have left, to get to this day, the Afghan government not only had to release prisoners, Taliban prisoners, who attacked Afghans, but also who killed U.S. soldiers.

    What should Americans think about that?

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    What's happening now, the Talibs and the government sitting across the table to negotiate a political settlement, is important. And that's what was needed to get to here.

    So, yes, difficult decision. Not happy that it had to happen, but it was required to get to a hopeful place, which is where we are right now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, thank you very much.

  • Zalmay Khalilzad:

    Well, thank you. It's good to be with you.

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