Kabul: The United States and Taliban have agreed in principle to chalk out a framework for a deal that could eventually end the 17-year old conflict in Afghanistan.
According to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, the Taliban would guarantee that Afghanistan will never be used as a base for terrorism in return for a full American withdrawal from the country, The New York Times reported.
He further stated that the Taliban concessions must include a ceasefire and agreement to hold talks with the Afghan government, a prospect the terror outfit has been persistently opposed to previously.
“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement. The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals,” Khalilzad told The New York Times in an interview in Kabul.
“We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out,” the Afghan-born US diplomat added.
To keep Afghanistan from being used as a base for operations like the al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, a major catalyst for the 17-year-old war, has been one of the primary demands made by the American officials.
Following nine years of stumbling efforts to arrive at a peace deal, the preliminary draft framework has been the biggest concrete step towards ending the war, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and has had a far-reaching effect on Washington’s foreign policy.
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the Taliban has asked for time to clarify their stance with the leadership on the American demands for a cease-fire and holding talks directly with the Afghan government.
The official said that all those issues were “interconnected” as part of the “package deal” which was equated to a Russian nesting doll. The official’s descriptions tallied with details that have been leaked by Taliban and western officials recently.
A senior Taliban official had confirmed that the draft agreement addressed the issue of withdrawal of foreign troops and the Taliban’s pledge that Afghanistan would never be used against others. He also said that “working groups” will work the details on a timeline for the troop withdrawal.
However, the Taliban official does not consider the withdrawal being dependent on the American condition for a cease-fire or direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, signalling that Washington’s demands may be far-fetched. He did not confirm the Taliban’s stance on the two issues.
The Taliban’s stance on the demand for Afghanistan to not be used as a base for terror activities also remained unclear. US officials said the Taliban delegation told them that the group would “provide guarantees” that would be satisfactory for the Americans.
A number of analysts of the Afghanistan war have opined that the details which have surfaced from the US-Taliban meetings indicate American desperation for a withdrawal from a war which is considered unwinnable, rather than patience for a holistic peace deal.
Diplomats in Kabul also suggested that Khalilzad’s apprehensions regarding the fulfillment of the US’ demands may be genuine. Khalilzad had said he was looking for ways, including help from other countries, to convince the Taliban for a cease-fire and a meet with the Afghan government.
The US envoy returned to Afghanistan on Sunday after six days of talks with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, to brief the Afghan government of the developments.
Over the course of six days, Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban, was appointed as their chief peace negotiator. Although he did not participate in the talks in Qatar, he is expected to take in the lead in future discussions.