Zalmay Khalilzad: Taliban demanding 'lion’s share' of future Afghan government

US envoy to Afghanistan says talks with group are 'not a question of trust'

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 8, 2019, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad participates in a discussion on "The Prospects for Peace in Afghanistan" at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, DC
 US and Taliban negotiators wrapped up their latest round of marathon peace talks on March 12, 2019,  with "real strides" made but no agreement on a timetable for troop withdrawal, Khalilzad said. / AFP / Jim WATSON
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The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the Taliban have been emboldened by their latest battlefield gains and are now demanding a majority stake in any future government in Kabul.

“At this point, they are demanding that they take the lion's share of power in the next government, given the military situation as they see it,” Mr Khalilzad said at the Aspen Security Forum.

He described the Taliban's position as one of strength following sweeping gains in which they have seized vast amounts of territory across Afghanistan.

“The Talibs have been emboldened by the developments in recent weeks in terms of the gains that they have made and are in a maximalist frame of mind,” Mr Khalilzad said.

In contrast, the Afghan national security forces are struggling with low morale, corrupt leadership, poor provisioning and the sudden end of western military support as US and foreign forces rush to leave the country.

US President Joe Biden has advocated a political settlement, but the Taliban remain focused on pushing their battlefield momentum.

Mr Khalilzad brokered the US withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020 under then-president Donald Trump. Under the deal, the Taliban agreed not to attack US forces and start peace talks with the Kabul government.

Talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress even after several rounds.

The two sides committed to speeding up the talks, however, at a recent meeting in Doha between a high-level Afghan political delegation and the Taliban.

“We are taking measures to secure our interests with appropriate preparations to monitor and to act if the Taliban violate the terms of the agreement,” Mr Khalilzad said.

Speaking at the same forum, retired general David Petraeus described the withdrawal decision as regrettable.

“Let’s recognise how dire the situation is. I feared we would come to regret this decision. I didn’t fear we would regret it as soon as I think we are now,” Mr Petraeus said.

“This is not a transition. This is a civil war in which millions of Afghans will flee their country.”

Mr Petraeus, who formerly headed the CIA, said he feared terrorist groups would soon return to Afghanistan.

“What we should have learnt from the past 20 years is that you cannot take your eye off of terrorists — if you give them an ungoverned space, they will exploit it, and what happens there doesn’t stay there,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the US State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to urge an acceleration of Kabul’s negotiations with different Afghan factions, including the Taliban, while condemning continued attacks by the group.

“The secretary and President Ghani emphasised the need to accelerate peace negotiations and achieve a political settlement that is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities, allows the Afghan people to have a say in choosing their leaders, and prevents Afghan soil from being used to threaten the United States and its allies and partners,” the statement read.

Updated: August 03, 2021, 6:02 PM