Afghan president calls on Taliban to 'enter serious talks' with Kabul

by Garry Watts January 29, 2019, 0:33
Afghan president calls on Taliban to 'enter serious talks' with Kabul

USA and Taliban officials have agreed in principle to the "framework" of a peace deal, The New York Times quotes US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as saying after five days of talks between the militant group and the United States in Qatar.

USA negotiators held six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar, last week.

Negotiators for the USA and the Taliban insurgents have reached "agreements in principle" on key issues for a peace deal that would end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the top United States envoy said.

In light of Khalilzad's report back, Ghani on Monday addressed the nation in a televised message and called on the Taliban to engage in direct talks with government.

The statement quoted Zalmay Khalilzad as saying that he had discussed a cease-fire deal with the Taliban but that there was no progress so far on the issue.

The palace said Khalilzad also confirmed that no agreement had been made on a withdrawal, adding that any such decision would be coordinated with Kabul.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official and now a member of the High Peace Council, an independent body of clerics and respected Afghan figures, said he believes the Qatar talks resulted in a "good understanding between both sides" but that more discussions are needed in the coming weeks or months.

"We want peace quickly, we want it soon, but we want it with prudence", Ghani said.

The Taliban has also insisted throughout this process that US troops leave before a cease-fire is reached, while USA and Afghan negotiators want to see a cease-fire before US troops leave.

Civilians continue to pay a bad price for the Taliban insurgency, with some estimates showing the Afghan conflict overtook Syria to become the world's deadliest previous year. The group also rejected a ceasefire and direct talks with Ghani's administration. The eventual agreement could lead to a full pullout of US troops and a Taliban ceasefire, and open up dialogue between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Khalilzad said in an interview with The New York Times that an agreement in principle was reached with the Taliban on the framework of a peace deal "which still has to be fleshed out" that will see the insurgents commit to guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used as a "platform for worldwide terrorist groups or individuals".

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country's security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.

Australian combat troops were withdrawn in December 2013, but 400 personnel remain in Afghanistan as trainers and advisers.

According to Mr Ghani's office, Mr Khalilzad in a meeting on Sunday denied that there had been any discussions with the Taliban about future governance arrangements in Kabul.

"The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for global terrorist groups or individuals", he told the Times.

"We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out", he added, according to The New York Times. Trump has said he wants to pull out half the remaining 14,000 American troops, according to United States officials.

Afghans have expressed tentative hopes about the talks tempered by fears of an American exit with Afghan security forces taking staggering losses, the government facing election upheaval, and civilians paying a disproportionate price after almost two decades of bloodshed.

"Frankly, if the USA troops withdraw from Afghanistan then the promise of good behaviour from the Taliban is really of no effect".

Both U.S. officials and the hardline Islamic group hailed progress after the talks on Saturday with Khalilzad.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has struggled to fend off a resurgent Taliban and other militant groups.

Ghani, who addressed a panel at the World Economic Forum on January 24, disclosed new figures on casualties of Afghan forces by saying that more than 45,000 Afghan security personnel have lost their lives since he took office in September 2014.

The Taliban stage near-daily attacks on Afghan forces and control over almost half the country.

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