WASHINGTON: The new US Special Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, is arriving in Islamabad later this week to clarify US expectations of the Taliban and of any future government in Afghanistan, the State Department said.
This will be his first visit to Pakistan as the top US diplomat for Afghanistan. Mr West replaced Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who stepped down this week after a tumultuous three-year tenure in which he also negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban.
The agreement led to a complete withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan and helped execute the Biden administration’s chaotic departure from the country. It also paved the way for the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August.
State Department spokesperson says new peace envoy will not visit war-torn country
Previously, Mr West served as Ambassador Khalilzad’s deputy, on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration, and for Joe Biden when he was vice president.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a news briefing on Monday afternoon that Mr West, who is now in Brussels, would also visit Britain, Pakistan, India and Russia.
“Together with our partners, he will continue to make clear the expectations that we have of the Taliban and of any future Afghanistan government,” Mr Price said.
Asked if the new peace envoy would also visit Afghanistan, the State Department official said: “There are no plans to do that.”
He said it was still not clear when Mr West will visit Doha for talks with Taliban officials based in the Qatari capital.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Mr West said he was in Brussels now to consult with allies and the EU on the way forward in Afghanistan.
“It is an honor to assume the role of US Special Representative for Afghanistan. I look forward to advancing America’s vital interests and supporting the Afghan people,” he said in another tweet.
Mr West took charge of his new office on Monday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate tweet that he discussed various issues with Mr West ahead of his trip to “discuss Afghanistan with international stakeholders.”
In a virtual news briefing with reporters from Brussels, Mr West said the US was worried about an uptick in attacks by militant Islamic State (IS) group’s affiliate in Afghanistan and remained deeply concerned about Al Qaeda’s ongoing presence as well.
The United States, he said, was preparing for the next round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, but he did not give a date.
Commenting on Mr West’s statement about the threat posed by IS-K militants, the US media noted that Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers faced increased attacks by its ideological foe, Islamic State-Khorasan Province, the regional Islamic State affiliate.
Mr West said Washington was “worried about the uptick in ISIS-K attacks, and we want the Taliban to be successful against them. Al Qaeda also has a presence there and we’re very concerned about that” too. Al Qaeda’s presence “is an issue of ongoing concern for us in our dialogue with the Taliban,” he added.
Mr West said Washington was not reopening its Kabul embassy yet and wanted to see the Taliban “establish a record of responsible conduct” before assessing that option.