US and Taliban negotiators have agreed on a draft framework for a peace deal seeking to put an end to the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, Washington’s top negotiator has said.
US negotiators held six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar last week.
The Taliban have so far refused to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, whom they dismiss as “puppets”.
But analysts caution that it could be years until any substantive peace agreement is reached.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, was in Kabul to brief the Afghan government about the talks.
We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” he told The New York Times in an interview, adding that as part of the proposed deal the Taliban had committed to preventing Afghanistan being used as a base for terror groups.
The US is exploring a full withdrawal of its troops – in return for a ceasefire and a commitment by the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government.
The Taliban say they will only begin negotiations with the government once a firm date for the withdrawal of US troops has been agreed.
On Monday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a fresh plea to the Taliban to talk directly to his government.
He alluded to fears that freedoms could be lost if the Taliban were to share power. Women’s rights activists have expressed particular concern due to the militants’ brutal treatment of women when they ran the country.
“We are committed to ensuring peace,” he said. “But there are values which are non-negotiable, for example national unity, national sovereignty, territorial integrity a powerful and competent central government and basic rights of the citizens of the country.”
According to Mr Ghani’s office, in a meeting on Sunday, Mr Khalilzad denied that there had been any discussions with the Taliban about future governance arrangements in Kabul.
In the New York Times interview, Mr Khalilzad said the Taliban had pledged not to give terrorist groups like al-Qaeda safe haven – a key demand from Washington if it pulls out troops.
“The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals,” he said.
Until the interview, the US envoy had only released a series of tweets about the talks – saying “significant progress” had been made but without providing details.
The discussions clearly remain at a provisional stage – and a long way from agreement on the broader issues required for lasting peace in Afghanistan – but after years of stalemate, it’s welcome progress, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Jill McGivering.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after al-Qaeda – which had used the then Taliban-run country as a base – carried out the 9/11 attacks in the US.
A senior Taliban official who attended the talks told the BBC over the weekend that both sides had agreed to form two committees to draw up detailed plans on how to implement agreements in principle on two key issues:
- When will American-led forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan?
- A commitment from the Taliban that the group will not allow international jihadist groups like al-Qaeda to use the country as a base in the future
The Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committees would “identify routes for the withdrawal, and how much time is needed. We suggested six months, but are flexible”.
The Taliban’s power and reach have surged since foreign combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014.
few days ago, a devastating attack on an intelligence training centre killed more than forty troops. The daring assault took place around 50 km (30 miles) from the capital, Kabul.
It is estimated that about 15 million people – half the Afghan population – are living in areas either controlled by the Taliban or where the militants are openly present and regularly mount attacks.