By: The Kabul Times
KABUL: In a previously unannounced visit to try to salvage a historic deal between Washington and the Taliban, struck in February but marred by a political crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in capital Kabul on Monday.
Pompeo separately met with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace before meeting his political rival Abdullah, who declared himself as the winner of contested presidential election of 2019.
US Secretary of State and President Ghani discussed the Afghan peace process and its future steps, a regional consensus on Afghan peace as well as current political and security issues, a statement from the presidential press office said.
The presidential palace meeting was also attended by the First Vice-president Amrullah Saleh and National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib.
The standoff has stalled the selection of a negotiating team to represent the Afghan government in planned talks with the Taliban.
A senior US State Department official told Reuters News Agency that the purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to try to mediate a solution for the ongoing political differences.
“The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved…soon, that could affect the peace process… Our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk,” the official said, adding it was unclear whether a resolution would be found during the one-day visit.
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent much of his time in Kabul since the deal signing, made a plea to both sides last week to act fast on the release of prisoners, a condition the Taliban have set for the talks
In an effort to come to a decision regarding the Taliban prisoner release, as stated in the peace process in the US-Taliban agreement, the Afghan government and the Taliban held a meeting on the issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad confirmed on Monday.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Khalilzad said: “Today, the US and Qatar facilitated the first Afghan government to Taliban technical talks on prisoner releases, via Skype video conferencing.
“Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process, as stated in the US-Taliban agreement. And critical for humanitarian reasons.
“The over two-hour technical discussion today was important, serious, and detailed. My thanks to all sides. Everyone clearly understands the coronavirus threat makes prisoner releases that much more urgent.”
Khalilzad said the coronavirus pandemic added urgency for the release.
Also, on Sunday, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani called on the nation to stay united to overcome the coronavirus crisis while assuring the people that it would be managed in a coordinated way.
With 40 infections in Afghanistan, fears are growing that the thousands returning home from neighboring Iran every day might fuel the outbreak in a nation with a public health network devastated by years of war.