KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban leaders will continue to debate with the newly appointed US Special Envoy for Peace in Afghanistan, the group said Saturday, a move that could accelerate diplomatic engagement between the conflicting parties.
FILE PHOTO: Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, will hold a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington on February 1
"Both sides spoke of an end to the occupation and a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue … Both sides agreed to meet again in the future," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.
Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Saturday to brief Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on his 10-day voyage through four countries, ending with a meeting with leaders of the militant Hardliner group.
According to the Taliban, the two sides were facing difficult conditions.
"It was an introductory meeting where an eight-member US delegation held a lengthy meeting with members of our political office," a senior Taliban member said.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban office in Qatar, led the discussions, he said.
Another high-ranking member of the Taliban said that Khalilzad had asked the Taliban leadership in Qatar's Doha capital to declare a ceasefire in Afghanistan for six months before the parliamentary elections of 20 October.
"Both sides discussed the prospects for peace and the United States presence in Afghanistan," another Taliban official said, calling for anonymity.
In return, the Taliban want the Afghan government to release fighters from prisons across the country and rapidly withdraw foreign forces fighting alongside the Afghan forces.
A Taliban source said the US delegation had proposed forming various committees to regulate the release of prisoners.
"Neither side agreed to immediately accept the other's demands, but they agreed to meet again and find a solution to the conflict," he said.
Khalilzad was appointed last month when President Donald Trump's government made new efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
A senior official who worked with the Afghan president said Khalilzad had informed Ghani of his meetings with high-level ministers and top diplomats in four countries that could play a key role.
Khalilzad's journey began in Afghanistan and he traveled to Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar before returning to Kabul.
A statement about Khalilzad's diplomatic tour, published by the US Embassy in Kabul, did not confirm his meeting with the Taliban.
"The United States shares the hopes of all Afghans in a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans are locked in. All citizens of Afghanistan must be part of this reconciliation process," Khalilzad said at the end of his four-nation tour.
Continuing struggles have raised questions about the viability of the US strategy to end the war, which last year focused on bringing militants to the negotiating table largely through further air strikes.
Last week, the Taliban demanded a complete withdrawal of foreign forces as the only solution to end the war, which began in 2001 with the withdrawal of the former Taliban government by US-led forces after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden / 11 attacks on the United States.
They have intensified attacks in strategic provinces and have also ordered Afghans to boycott parliamentary elections.
At least 8,050 Afghan civilians were killed or injured in the first nine months of 2018, nearly half of which were suicide bombers and other improvised devices that may constitute war crimes, the UN said last week.
Additional coverage by Jibran Ahmed; Writing by Rupam Jain; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell and Andrew Bolton