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Taliban and US claim significant progress in talks but no agreement



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By Dan De Luce

US. Taliban officials said six days of talks had led to a possible agreement that Washington would withdraw US troops within 1

8 months and commit insurgents to prevent Al Qaeda or other extremists from using the country as a base for terrorism to use.

The duration and scope of Doha's talks between US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and high-level Taliban officials were unprecedented, former diplomats and experts said, and positive public commentary on both sides brought the seducing prospect of a negotiated end to the 17-year-old war ,

"I'm more optimistic than ever. I think we are much closer to a possible solution than in the past – at least 17 years, and especially in recent years, "said Hekmat Karzai, former Deputy Foreign Minister for Afghanistan and cousin of former President Hamid Karzai.

The Taliban go on June 16, 2018 in Ghanikhel district in Afghanistan province, Afghanistan, in Afghanistan. Parwiz / Reuters file

But while both Khalilzad and the Taliban sounded a positive tone afterwards, they celebrate the truce It was Also clear that crucial issues that had long proven to be stumbling blocks were unresolved.

"Reports from some media about the ceasefire agreement and talks with the Kabul government are not true," said the spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, in a statement Saturday.

The US envoy said the deal needed a ceasefire and a pledge include the Taliban to start negotiations with the Afghan government. However, the Taliban rejected a truce and refused to recognize the West-backed government in Kabul, calling Afghan President Ashraf Ghani an American puppet.

The US envoy left Doha on Saturday and flew with him to Kabul An Afghan government that is scared of Washington is keen to deal with its opponents.

In a series of tweets, Khalilzad said the discussions are "more productive than in the past." We have made significant progress on important issues. "

But he said there are "a number of problems that still need to be resolved" and that there is still to be resolved there There could be no deal for a truce and dialogue between the Afghans. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Foreign diplomats, former US diplomats and experts said the talks were promising, but it was unclear whether the US could persuade the Taliban to make concessions that they had long resisted.

] Karzai, the former deputy foreign minister, said he was "quite encouraged" by the talks, but added, "I think the Taliban and the US government have agreed to agree on certain issues but far from a few other questions. "

Experts and former diplomats say the Taliban have gained the upper hand in the negotiations as they have gained ground on the battlefield, and the wishes of US President Donald Trump, Two years are known to separate US troops from Afghanistan.

Laurel Miller, a former high-ranking State Department diplomat who oversees Afghan and Pakistani policies, said the public statements made by both sides were "dueled statements about some Prett y fundamental issues. "

Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani attends a plenary session in Congress Hall of the 49th Annual World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) on January 24, 2019. Laurent Gillieron / EPA

In the past, the US was reluctant to enter into talks with the Taliban without the participation and approval of the Afghan government. However, the United States hopes that an initial agreement between the US and the Taliban, the establishment of a ceasefire and a withdrawal period for the US troops could open the door to peace negotiations between the insurgents and the US-backed Afghan government.

The question is whether the US-Taliban dialogue will provide impetus for a broader peace agreement or just a US exit with few safeguards for the Afghan government.

"There is also the possibility that a deal – which is really just a matter of agreement between the US and the Taliban – will emerge in a way that protects an exit, but not much more," said Miller, now director of the Asia program of the International Crisis Group.

"What we have seen. "Far does not give us any clarity about which direction this will go," she said.

Foreign diplomats familiar with the talks told NBC news that Afghan government officials are extremely worried about the US administration There have been difficulties with the Taliban and Khalilzad's meeting with Ghani. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ghani said his government must be consulted on Taliban diplomacy.

A western official said that "the wishes of the Afghan government and the people are rather low in Washington's calculations."

"The fear of being sold out is palpable among the Afghans. Ambassador Khalilzad, however, is enormously talented and knows his place in history, "said David Sedney, a former US Defense official and now senior staff member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Even though the talks have progressed in the past For several months, the Taliban continued attacks on the Afghan government, including a devastating attack on a secret service bureau on Monday.

Khalilzad must sell a potential deal to Trump and intelligence and military leaders, although Trump is interested in leaving the US "The Pentagon and the intelligence services will have firm and concrete guarantees that the Taliban publicly commit to breaking any support or ties with Al Qaeda, former officials said.

The Taliban had previously kept such a promise.

Academics and former officials said Pakistan, the patrons of the Taliban, played a significant role in the talks, unlike in some discussions when they were accused of undermining diplomacy. This time, Islamabad believes that Washington is serious and that dialogue is a way to maintain its influence in Afghanistan, where it fears that India might hold its own, experts said.

The Pakistanis released an important Taliban figure, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar last year allowed him to participate in talks with the Americans. His appointment as chief Taliban negotiator and new deputy head of the Taliban signals that the insurgency is ready to forge an agreement with the United States, experts said.


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