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Trump's activist envoy holds direct talks with Taliban

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
In an unlikely career renaissance Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has re-emerged as President Trump’s top envoy in Afghanistan, the Washington Times reported on Thursday.

The Afghan-born Khalilzad, who made his mark in the George W. Bush White House navigating Washington’s Iraq war policy in the wake of 2003 invasion, is currently seeking to forge an elusive peace deal in America’s longest war, holding three days of talks with top members of the Taliban in Qatar last week.

The direct talks with the Afghan Islamist insurgency group, whom the U.S. and its NATO allies have been waging war against for nearly two decades, is a key pillar in the Trump administration’s plan to roll back Taliban gains on the battlefield and force the group to the negotiating table.

Making a diplomatic reconciliation with the Taliban for the first time a main goal in the American war plan in Afghanistan — known as the South Asia strategy — is a distinct break from previous administrations’ efforts to end the war, several former U.S. defense and national security officials said this week.

During the meeting, Khalilzad appeared to break with previous U.S. demands that the Taliban negotiate only with the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.

It is a reconciliation fraught with risks, being pursued in an environment where violence has been on the upswing in recent years and one violent terrorist strike or insurgent attack has the ability to undermine diplomatic momentum.

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