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September 2, 2019

US, Taliban on threshold of peace deal

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September 2, 2019

PESHAWAR: The United States and Afghan Taliban on Saturday concluded the latest round of peace talks in Doha, with US and Taliban representatives claiming that they were at the threshold of peace agreement that is likely to reduce violence and open the way for intra-Afghan dialogue.

“We are at the threshold of an agreement that will reduce violence and open the door for Afghans to sit together to negotiate an honourable and sustainable peace and a unified, sovereign Afghanistan that does not threaten the United States, its allies, or any other country," US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said in a Twitter post, soon after concluding the 9th round of peace talks with Taliban on Saturday night.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born US diplomat, overseeing peace talks for America, said he would travel to Kabul on Sunday for consultations after wrapping up the ninth round of talks with Taliban officials in Qatar. He gave no information about the likely peace agreement and withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Also, senior Taliban leaders said they had settled “most” of the issues with the US, saying in the first phase, it is decided to exchange prisoners.

“We have given them a list of our 5000 prisoners, including some senior level Taliban members. The US had agreed with us to free all of these 5000 prisoners as a confidence building measure. In return, we would also release all their prisoners, including three foreign nationals and Afghan officials,” a senior Taliban leader told this correspondent on condition of anonymity.

Taliban said they had given a list of their prisoners to the US negotiating team and they pledged to release them.

Taliban didn’t mention the number of prisoners they are presently holding, but said they had many prisoners, in which besides the three foreign nationals, they included Afghan security and government officials.

“Neither the US negotiating team nor Afghans had so far shared a list of their prisoners with us. If they shared a list then we would see them and would definitely release them,” said the Taliban leader. He however clarified that some of the Afghan security officials involved in the killing of Taliban militants or other Taliban leaders were facing prosecution in Taliban courts and therefore they would not be freed.

Taliban leaders said it is decided between them - US and Taliban- that they would soon announce a ceasefire in Afghanistan and then exchange prisoners.

Taliban said the US had pledged to give a roadmap for phases-wise withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan.

“In the first phase, they agreed to withdraw a bigger number of troops, approximately 8000-10,000. And the remaining forces would be withdrawn as per agreement in more than a year,” the Taliban leader claimed. And soon after prisoners’ swap, Taliban said they would join the intra Afghan dialogue. The meeting between Taliban and Afghan leaders, is expected to be held in Oslo, Norway, most likely at the end of this month.

About the intra-Afghan dialogue, Taliban clarified saying they would not involve the Afghan government in the peace talks. “We made it clear that people sitting in the Afghan government can participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue but they would not represent the government,” said the Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Also, about the ceasefire, Taliban said they had made clear to the US in the peace talks that it would mean only between US and Taliban.

“What they (US negotiating team) had agreed with us is we would not stop our fighting against the Afghan government and its armed forces. Also, we made it clear to them that we would immediately break the ceasefire if US forces came to the rescue of Afghan forces in their clashes with Taliban,” the Taliban leader claimed.

Similarly, Taliban sources said they informed US negotiating team that they would neither participate in the Afghan presidential election nor let it happen.

According to Taliban, the US wanted to avoid some of the decisions being mentioned in the peace accord. Taliban reportedly opposed it and wanted all the decisions made in the peace talks should be documented in the agreement.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's Qatar-based political office, and member of their negotiating team, also seems optimistic about the peace talks and said both sides were in discussions to finalize technical issues.

"We are on the verge of ending the invasion and reaching a peaceful solution for Afghanistan," Shaheen said on Twitter.