Sunday 7 July 2019 - 06:23

US envoy lauds latest 'peace talks' with Taliban as 'most productive' so far

Story Code : 803608
US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (Photo by AFP)
US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad (Photo by AFP)
“There is still important work left to be done before we have an agreement,” Khalilzad wrote in a Twitter message on Saturday, insisting that the latest round of discussions were the “most productive session” to date.
The Afghan-born US diplomat, who has been negotiating since last year with the radical militant group – purportedly aimed at ending the 18-year US-led war in Afghanistan – further added that the current “peace talks” will resume on Tuesday after an intra-Afghan dialogue, involving a group of Afghan delegates.
The two sides began a seventh round of the talks last week, aimed at forging a plan for the withdrawal of the US-led foreign military forces in exchange for guarantees by Taliban terrorists that international militant groups will not use Afghanistan as a base for launching attacks on US and its allies.
According to news reports, clarity on a final agreement on the timetable of foreign force pullout has been elusive so far, but in a sign of progress the Taliban agreed on the sidelines of the current negotiations to hold separate talks with a group of Afghan representative not formally affiliated with the government in Kabul.
Khalilzad reportedly intends to secure a political settlement with the Taliban, which has intensified its bombings and terror attacks in capital Kabul and elsewhere in the war-torn country in recent months and now controls more Afghan territory than at any time since being ousted by US-led forces in 2001.
He further claimed – without elaborating -- that substantive progress had been made on all four parts of a peace deal: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations, as well as a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
This is while 20,000 US-led foreign troops, most of them American, remain in Afghanistan as part of a purported NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces, though some US troops are engaged in what American military officials describe as counter-terrorism operations.
The development came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a trip to Kabul last month that Washington was close to finishing a draft agreement with the Taliban terrorists on “counter-terrorism assurances,” expressing hopes that a peace deal could be reached by September 1.
Moreover, US media outlets cited anonymous “Taliban officials” as saying last week that Washington was seeking up to 18 months to complete a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan even as US President Donald Trump told Fox News earlier in the week that a withdrawal had already quietly begun and that troop strength had been cut to 9,000.
However, AP cited a senior US official on Friday as contradicting Trump’s remarks, insisting that force strength remains unchanged at nearly 14,000. It further cited “an American official familiar with the talks” as disputing the 18-month withdrawal time frame, without mentioning what Washington was proposing.
Trump also vowed during an interview with Fox News on Monday to maintain a “very strong intelligence” presence in Afghanistan, while repeating earlier claims that he intends to withdraw American troops from the war-torn country.
“We will be leaving very strong intelligence, far more than you would normally think,” Trump said in the interview, adding that the problem with pulling the 9,000 US troops from Afghanistan was that the country “just seems to be a lab for terrorists... I call it the Harvard of terrorists.”
The interview with Trump was broadcast just after the Taliban claimed responsibility for multiple terrorist attacks in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and other parts of the country as Washington began the new round of negotiations with the militant group.
Meanwhile, US and Taliban negotiators further decided on Saturday to put the “peace talks” on hold for two days, to allow for a meeting between rival Afghan groups to be held in Qatari capital of Doha, according to reports citing officials of the two sides.
US officials are reportedly demanding a ceasefire agreement and a commitment on direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government before a peace deal is finalized.
A spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Sohail Shaheen, was also cited as saying the ‪US-Taliban dialogue would resume after the two-day intra-Afghan conference.
A previously planned meeting between Afghan representatives broke down back in April before it began amid disagreements over the size of the proposed 250-strong Afghan delegation as well as over its status as a representative body.
This time, nearly 40 high-profile Afghan figures and activists are due to arrive in Doha but will not have any official status — a condition made necessary by the Taliban’s refusal to deal directly with the government in Kabul.
The terrorist group has emphasized that those attending the talks planned for Sunday and Monday will only do so in a “personal capacity.”