Taliban talks inch closer to landmark deal

Taliban talks inch closer to landmark deal

Political envoys of Afghan Taliban and United States made progress in peace talks in Qatar on fourth day on Thursday and a Taliban official was hopeful of "a deal coming very soon".

They said the deal included provisions that Baloch separatist militants will not be allowed to use Afghan soil to target Pakistan.

The US said Tuesday it had resumed talks with the insurgents in Qatar, where special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was meeting Taliban representatives.

Afghan Taliban and USA officials Saturday agreed on preliminary draft of likely peace accord, including USA withdrawal from Afghanistan in 18 months, prisoners' exchange and lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders from blacklist, according to Taliban sources.

The length and apparent progress in the ongoing talks are unprecedented, signaling that both Washington and the Taliban might see a path forward.

However with the withdrawal of USA troops seen as part of the deal, fears are rising about what an American exit could mean for Afghanistan, with security forces taking staggering losses, the government facing election upheaval, and civilians paying a disproportionate price after almost two decades of bloodshed.

The Trump administration has been eager to end the US role in a war that has cost 2,400 American lives and billions of dollars, and Trump has said he wants to send home half of the 14,000 troops now in the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement Saturday said the Taliban are steadfast in their demand that no substantive progress is possible without a troop withdrawal.

Khalilzad last met with the insurgents last month in the United Arab Emirates, which has jockeyed with Qatar for influence in Afghan diplomatic circles. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and "everything" must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire", Khalilzad said.

Since the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat mission in January 2015, the Afghan government has been steadily losing ground to the Taliban.

A separate high ranking Taliban official suggested that the group was nervous about agreeing to a ceasefire before having established a firm settlement, as it could be hard to convince grassroots fighters to take up arms again, after having laid them down. This makes an agreement between the Taliban and the United States more likely now than at any other time. "It's monumental news, but we're still at the early stages", said Graeme Smith, Afghanistan analyst with the International Crisis Group.

"Meetings here (in Qatar) were more productive than they have been in the past".

Ghani warned that any truce the USA eventually signs with the Taliban must pave the way for direct talks between his government and the insurgents to decide all issues, including foreign troop withdrawal.

In the capital, Afghans watching from the sidelines said a deal between the militants and the government was vital to bringing an end to the more than 17 years of bloodshed.

The Taliban in the past have refused to deal with the internationally recognized government of President Ashraf Ghani. "The Afghan government is one of them", he added.

The suggestion to appoint an interim government in Afghanistan comes at a time when top politicians including Ghani have filed their nominations for the presidential polls in July this year.

Some observers noted that the Taliban appear to have slightly moderated their stance on some issues - such as allowing a three-day ceasefire a year ago, and making marginal concessions on women's rights.

Last week, Ghani said that 45,000 members of the country's security forces had been killed since he took office in the fall of 2014.

Related Articles