Peace deal with Taliban likely by July

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Taliban officials promised Khalilzad in exchange that they would guarantee that Afghanistan - where the 9/11 terrorist attacks were planned - would not harbor terrorists who could threaten Americans or their allies, he said during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace think tank in Washington.

Pakistan's role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on Friday said those Taliban members whose names are on the United Nations blacklist are traveling freely while they are not allowed to do so, referring to the participation of some members of the group at Moscow talks this week.

And this can not be achieved without the help of regional players, in particular Pakistan, Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad said in his maiden public appearance before a Washington audience some six months after he was entrusted with this task by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The US has set July 2019 target for giving final shape to the peace accord with Taliban, sources said.

The Taliban's top negotiator in Moscow Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai said after the meeting that there would be no cease-fire until the withdrawal of foreign troops.

He also served as the US Ambassadors to Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush Administration.

The possibility of a unilateral United States withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a new wave of uncertainty in the region, "which poses yet another challenge to Pakistan", he warned.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad denied this assertion, tweeting: "I've heard some Taliban officials claim we have a troop withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan".

If there is no progress towards peace, he added, "the elections will take place, and we are doing what we can to support the preparations for a credible election".

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He said that he sees himself as a "catalyst" to find a formula for Afghans to sit down with each other and work out a roadmap for a peaceful future.

Additionally, the Taliban have promised not to shelter foreign extremists, but experts say they can not be trusted and even now are helping to hide such militants.

"They (the Taliban) say they made a mistake in how they dealt with women the last time", Khalilzad said.

"We always would like Pakistan, like other countries to do more, but we appreciate what they have done so far and I have indicated and Secretary (of State), (Mike) Pompeo and the president that we want to have good relations with Pakistan, better relations with Pakistan", he said in response to a question.

"They understand that they can not go back" to how things were, the U.S. negotiator said.

Khalilzad also emphasized that the next phase of peace process should be led by the Afghans as the role of the United States will decrease.

USA troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and toppled the Taliban government within weeks.

"We first and foremost have to put an end to the occupation and then focus on resolving our internal issues".

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