By Rupam Jain
KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday to discuss ongoing peace talks with the Taliban and the security situation ahead of Afghan presidential polls in September.
Pompeo stopped over on his way to New Delhi for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials.
“With so much going on in the world right now it’s sometimes easy to forget about America’s commitment here to Afghanistan, but the world should know that the Trump administration has not forgotten, the American people have not forgotten,” Pompeo said in Kabul.
His visit to Afghanistan comes ahead of a seventh round of peace talks between Taliban leaders and U.S. officials aimed at finding a political settlement to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. The next round of peace talks is scheduled to begin on June 29 in Doha.
The talks between the United States and the Taliban will focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.
“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that were prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear, we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” said Pompeo.
“We agree that peace is our highest priority and that Afghanistan must never again serve as a platform for international terrorism.”
He said the two sides are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitment to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for “terrorists”.
Momentum for talks with the Taliban is steadily building, with a special U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, pushing the peace process and insurgent leaders showing serious interest in negotiating for the first time.
Ghani has also offered repeatedly to talk with the Taliban but they have insisted that they will not deal directly with the Ghani government.
“All sides agree that finalising a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation,” Pompeo said, adding that next step is at the heart of the U.S. effort.
“We are not and will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the government or people of Afghanistan.”
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Catherine Evans)