USA envoy: Pakistan freed Taliban leader at United States request

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In a series of tweets after six days of talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha last month, Special US Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said the US has made "significant progress" in its peace talks with the Taliban.

Khalilzad said he would ideally have the peace deal before the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan.

"I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they're now on board with the peace process", said Jason Campbell, who was the Pentagon's Afghanistan country director until past year and is now at the RAND Corporation think tank.

"We have tried to develop a long agenda of issues that must be addressed".

Well-placed sources said the USA administration has taken the final decision to pull out of Afghanistan and are willing to go ahead keeping in view the significance of Pakistan's role.

"The timing of a peace settlement from our point of view is the sooner is better", Mr Khalilzad said.

"I think the message that I have here is a peace in Afghanistan will help our relations with Pakistan", he added.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held six days of talks - perhaps the most productive to date - with the Taliban in Doha last month and is due to meet Taliban representatives again on February 25.

Critics are sceptical about the talks for a number of reasons, primarily because they have not yet included the Afghan government, which the Taliban considers US-backed puppets.

But the message that they have given me is that they understand that they can not go back.

The main USA objective, he said, is ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for extremists like al-Qaida, the group led by Osama bin Laden that launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan.

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"Our vision long term is for an Afghanistan that's entirely sovereign, independent".

Zalmay, who was appointed in September as the State Department's special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said that although he and the Taliban have made progress on the issue of a US troop withdrawal, that is just one among many issues and none has been fully resolved.

Khalilzad called any continued threat of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan a "red line" in negotiations with the Taliban.

The group said in a statement that those Taliban representatives who attended Moscow talks "are not included in the United Nations blacklist".

Getting American troops out of Afghanistan, where they have been either fighting the Taliban or advising Afghan government forces since October 2001, is the top priority for the Taliban officials he has talked with, Khalilzad said. He reiterated that nothing is agreed to until the United States agrees to everything.

Afghanistan has suffered almost constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the U.S. invasion in late 2001.

Apologizing for his scratchy voice, Khalilzad joked: "This is what 42 hours of talking with the Taliban can do to you".

But it is tied to a more specific ambition, coming as the United States is negotiating directly with the Taliban.

The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants' families, the insurgents say.

Nothing is agreed to until everything has been agreed to and the other issues that must be dealt with are issues of a roadmap for Afghanistan political future to end Afghan war. But he noted that the Taliban have been unwilling to take this step, arguing that the government is illegitimate.

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