US reportedly agrees draft peace deal on Afghanistan

Taliban officials say negotiators have consented to withdrawal of foreign troops

American soldiers are picked up  in the village of Hazarbuz, Afghanistan, in June 2006. The US and the Taliban have ended six days of some of the most serious Afghan peace negotiations to date. File photograph: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

American soldiers are picked up in the village of Hazarbuz, Afghanistan, in June 2006. The US and the Taliban have ended six days of some of the most serious Afghan peace negotiations to date. File photograph: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

 

Taliban officials said US negotiators on Saturday agreed a draft peace deal setting out the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months, potentially ending the US’s longest war.

The details of the draft were given to Reuters by Taliban sources at the end of six days of talks with US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at ending the war, more than 17 years after American-led forces invaded Afghanistan.

The draft stipulates that troops would leave within 18 months of the agreement being signed.

While no joint statement was issued, Mr Khalilzad tweeted later that the talks had made “significant progress” and would resume shortly, adding that he planned to travel to Afghanistan to meet government officials there.

“Meetings here [in Qatar] were more productive than they have been in the past. We have made significant progress on vital issues,” he wrote, adding that numerous issues still needed work.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and everything must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said in the tweets.

A US state department spokesperson declined further comment.

A Taliban statement issued later also noted progress on troop withdrawal and other issues but said more negotiations and internal consultations were required.

“The policy of the Islamic Emirate during talks was very clear – until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, using another name the group has for itself.

It was not clear if the draft described by the Taliban sources was acceptable to both sides or when it could be completed and signed.

According to the sources, the hardline Islamist group gave assurances that Afghanistan would not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the US and its allies. Such assurances had been a key early demand of Washington.

They said the deal included a ceasefire provision, but they had yet to confirm a timeline. They said they would only open talks with Afghan representatives once a truce was implemented.

Up until now, the Taliban has repeatedly rejected the Afghan government’s offer of holding talks, preferring instead to talk directly to the US side, which it regards as its main enemy.

“In 18 months, if the foreign forces are withdrawn and ceasefire is implemented, then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.

More talks on the draft are expected in February, in the Qatari capital Doha, the Taliban sources said.

They expect their side to be led by new political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s co-founder, who was released from prison in Pakistan last year.

While they said his appointment had boosted momentum for a deal, it was unclear if he had joined the talks.

Near-daily attacks

News of progress on a deal comes as the Taliban continues to stage near-daily attacks against the western-backed Afghan government and its security forces.

Despite the presence of US-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, the Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.

The US has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a Nato-led mission, known as Resolute Support, as well as a US counter-terrorism mission directed at groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Despite reports in December last year that the US was considering pulling out almost half of its forces from the country, a White House spokesman said that US president Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw the troops. However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have prompted fears of a fresh migrant crisis.

The Taliban sources said other clauses in the draft include an agreement over the exchange and release of prisoners, the removal of an international travel ban for several Taliban leaders by Washington and the prospect of an interim Afghan government after the ceasefire is struck. – Reuters