US-Taliban talks make gains on draft peace deal – Taliban officials

Afghan alleged former Taliban fighters carry their weapons before handing them over as part of a government peace and reconciliation process at a ceremony in Jalalabad on February 24, 2016. More than a dozen former Taliban fighters from Nazyan district of Nangarhar province handed over their weapons as part of a peace reconciliation program. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo by Noorullah Shirzada / AFP)

Staging near-daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces, the Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan and are widely seen as more powerful than at any time since being toppled in the 2001 US-led invasion.

The Taliban have staged a comeback in recent years and today hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan. (June 16, 2018)
The Taliban have staged a comeback in recent years and today hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan. (June 16, 2018) (Reuters)

Taliban negotiators and United States officials meeting in Qatar on Saturday finalised clauses to be included in a draft agreement to end the 17-year-old Afghan war, according to Taliban sources.

Details provided by the sources to Reuters include apparent concessions from both sides, with foreign forces to be withdrawn from the country in 18 months from the future signing of the deal.

US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is heading to Afghan capital Kabul to brief President Ashraf Ghani after the end of the six-day talks, the sources and a diplomat said.

It is unclear whether a joint statement will be issued, or whether the provisions have been fully accepted by the US side.

US embassy officials in Kabul were not available to comment.

According to the Taliban sources, the hardline Islamic group offered assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants to attack the United States and its allies – a key early demand of Washington.

The Taliban says that they will finalise a timeline for a ceasefire in Afghanistan but will only open talks with Afghan representatives once the ceasefire is implemented.

Other clauses include a deal over the exchange and release of prisoners from the warring sides, the removal of an international travel ban on several Taliban leaders by the United States and the prospect of an interim Afghan government after the ceasefire is struck, the Taliban sources said.

TRT World’s Bilal Sarwary has more details from Kabul.

The offer to appoint an interim government in Afghanistan comes at a time when top politicians including Ghani have filed their nominations for the presidential polls in July this year. Ghani has repeatedly rejected the offer to agree to the formation of an interim government.

News of progress on a deal comes as the Taliban continue to stage nearly 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 17 years after the US led an invasion to drive them from power, the Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan.

The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, as well as a US counter-terrorism mission directed at groups such as Daesh and al Qaeda.

Despite reports in December last year that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of its forces, 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 also prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies