Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, means business and is looking forward to “concrete progress” during his stay in Pakistan. He has had extensive meetings in the Foreign Office, and with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshmi, Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The “concrete progress” he seeks through his tweet from Pakistan is bringing Afghan Taliban on a table with Afghan government for sustainable peace in that country after the US forces withdraw. The simplistic line of argument that we encounter on international forums is why Khalilzad has come to Pakistan instead of talking directly to Afghan Taliban. Direct answer to this question is that Afghan Taliban have pulled out of talks for a future government set-up in Afghanistan. Before landing here, Khalilzad went to India, China and Kabul as part of his four-nation tour. Fired up by the commitment of making sure that Afghanistan is not consumed by terrorism after the US pull-out, he is meeting all the stakeholders in Pakistan and has kept his tour open-ended. While Afghan Taliban have refused to play the ball, the Afghan government has postponed presidential elections until July in a hope that all Afghan stakeholders are taken in in the new set-up. If Taliban are left out in this set-up, the elections’ credibility will be questioned and Kabul will remain a target of terror strikes. Similarly, the US needs this issue resolved as early as possible as per US President Donald Trump’s pull-out decision. Unlike Afghanistan, the US cannot afford rescheduling its presidential elections falling in 2020. Any long delay will render the move inconclusive. It was believed that Khalilzad’s visit to Islamabad was delayed because Pakistan was accessing Taliban leadership in a bid to convince them to meet the US envoy. This belief is also endorsed by Afghan Taliban’s statement explicitly denying their reported meeting with Khalilzad in Islamabad. To coincide with Khalilzad’s visit, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also telephoned Prime Minister Imran Khan to acknowledge Pakistan’s effort for peace. PM Khan assured President Ghani that Pakistan was making sincere efforts for a negotiated settlement according to a statement issued by the PM Office. Islamabad is likely to host a meeting on Afghan peace in which different stakeholders including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates will participate. The PM, the Foreign Minister, the military leadership have time and again voiced for a peace process in Afghanistan that is owned and led by Afghans. Leaders in India and China have also expressed the same views in their meetings with Khalilzad. But Khalilzad has not visited Iran or engaged it in any talks held in Qatar or Abu Dhabi. It is important not to ignore the growing relationship between Afghanistan, Iran and India. Once the foreign forces leave Afghanistan, sustainable peace in the region will rely on Afghanistan’s relations with its neighbors. This is why a regional solution and commitment are needed to address the Afghanistan issue. * Published in Daily Times, January 20th 2019.