US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad talks during a meeting with journalists. File photo
The US special envoy for Afghanistan has demanded that all sides reduce violence, he said on Thursday, after shuttling from Kabul to the Gulf to push a peace effort that looks increasingly precarious.
The envoy, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of a February agreement with the Taliban clearing the way for a US troop withdrawal, met Taliban leaders in Doha on Wednesday, hours after meeting government leaders in Kabul.
"On violence, I told the Talibs, violence by all sides must fall," Khalilzad said on Twitter.
Violence has surged in recent days after a bloody militant raid in Kabul, which the Taliban denied responsibility for, triggered an Afghan government order for its forces to go on the offensive.
Clashes have erupted in several parts of the country with dozens killed.
The main element of the Feb. 29 agreement between the United States and the Taliban was the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
A Taliban ceasefire was not part of the pact though the militants, fighting since their 2001 ouster to expel foreign troops and bring back Islamic rule, promised to enter power-sharing talks with the US-backed government.
But peace efforts have stalled over disagreement on an exchange of prisoners.
Khalilzad said he met Taliban leaders, including political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and discussed the prisoner release and reducing violence.
Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada on Wednesday released a statement 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 criticised as inciting violence.
Earlier on Wednesday, Khalilzad met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former rival Abdullah Abdullah.
Ghani and Abdullah signed an agreement to share power on Sunday, ending a months-long impasse over a disputed election, and raising hopes that the government would now focus on the US-brokered peace process effort.
According to a pool report from a journalist accompanying Pompeo, the top US diplomat was welcomed by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad — the lead US negotiator in recent talks with the Taliban — after arriving at Kabul airport.
The US-Taliban deal signed on Feb. 29 was touted as Washington's effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country's future.
His remarks come against the backdrop of the difficulties US negotiators face in shepherding the Afghan government and Taliban towards intra-Afghan negotiations, according to Western diplomats.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai also defended the Taliban's role in recent bloodshed across the country after US President Donald Trump cited an attack that killed an American soldier as his reason for calling off negotiations earlier this month.
The group were travelling through Badakshan province to assist security forces in the area, officials said. A local commander was among the fatalities, provincial governor's spokesman Sanaullah Rohani told the media.
The lockdown is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas while authorities have partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen.
Sharjah Police once again has come to the rescue of residents who were stranded on a highway when their vehicle had a flat tyre.
In Victoria in Australia's southeast, which is still battling outbreaks of the new coronavirus and where social distancing rules allow for gatherings of no more than 20 people, health authorities were urging people not to attend the rallies.