29 January, 2019
USA and Taliban representatives have edged closer to reaching a peace deal to allow American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, negotiators have confirmed. However, they have held four rounds of talks with the United States since previous year.
Before U.S. forces intervened after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the Taliban controlled the country through a brutal and oppressive regime.
The US invasion of 2001 was driven by the Taliban's harbouring of Al Qaeda, but more than 17 years later the militant group appears diminished in the region.
Here is how the chief U.S. negotiator in talks between the USA and the Taliban puts it to the newspaper: "We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement", says envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
The statement added that Khalilzad has no authority to discuss issues such as a future Afghan administration, but that his goal is to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, meaning direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul.
A spokesman for the Taliban also said that the negotiations "saw progress", although he insisted that "until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible".
There was no immediate comment from Khalilzad or the US Embassy.
Taliban and USA representatives, meeting in Qatar last week, outlined but did not formally agree on a broad plan in which US troops would leave the country in exchange for the insurgents pledging to ensure that Afghan territory would not be used by them or other Islamist militant groups to harm American interests. They have maintained that they are prepared to talk with USA officials only and only about the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The Taliban have long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, branding them "puppets".
However, according to a statement from current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office reported by the Washington Post, the discussions in Qatar had not touched on a key Taliban demand: A place in the current Afghan government.
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"We want peace, we want it fast but we want it with a plan", Ghani continued Monday.
However, there is still no accord on a timetable for a USA withdrawal or a ceasefire - major issues on which previous attempts at negotiations have foundered.
"No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term", Ghani said.
Khalilzad has met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months in the latest bid to end America's longest war.
Pointing at the 18-month timeline during which the U.S.is expected to move toward withdrawing, former foreign secretary Shyam Saran said the "endgame" has begun in Afghanistan.
He reassured the Afghans the talks in Qatar remain geared towards bringing the insurgents to the table with Kabul, according to a statement released by Ghani's office.
In Monday's address to the nation, Ghani also stressed that United States and other foreign forces are in Afghanistan because they are needed here and that if there is to be any downsizing or pullout, the Kabul government will have to play a role in the talks.
Australian combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, but 400 personnel remain in Afghanistan as trainers and advisers. It quoted Khalilzad as saying he had discussed a ceasefire deal with the Taliban, but that there was no progress on the issue.
On Friday, Mr Ghani said more than 45,000 members of the country's security forces had been killed since he became leader in 2014.
They have maintained they are prepared to talk with USA officials only, and only about the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan.