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December 9, 2019

Resumption of peace talks: Taliban giving final touches to accord

National

December 9, 2019

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban said they had resumed the peace process from the point where it was called off by US President Donald Trump in September.

They said presently they were working on the selection of the date and place where the peace accord should be announced. The US and Afghan Taliban resumed peace talks on Saturday in Doha.

"Much of the peace process has already been discussed and agreed upon by the two sides and the US may announce the peace accord either over Christmas or the New Year," said a senior Taliban leader in Qatar privy to the peace negotiations.

Pleading anonymity, he said that Zalmay Khalilzad was heading the US negotiation team while Taliban side was led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar. The Taliban said they felt that the US was "serious" this time in the peace process. They said that besides Khalilzad, US military commander in Afghanistan Gen Scott Miller also taken part in the peace talks in Doha. "We didn't expect that Gen Miller would come with Khalilzad from Kabul to participate in the peace talks. We have realised that the US leadership now seems serious in the peace process," said the Taliban leader.

According to Taliban leaders, Anas Haqqani, a former prisoner in Kabul, also participated in the peace talks with the US. He and two other Taliban prisoners were recently freed in exchange for the two foreign nationals in Kabul. Anas Haqqani is the younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network and deputy chief of the Afghan Taliban.

Upon his release from the Bagram airbase, Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar nominated Anas Haqqani as member of the Political Commission and also the negotiation team. According to Taliban leaders, they had offered conditional ceasefire to the US forces in Afghanistan. They added that they had agreed to announce a ceasefire in case the US stopped all military operations against the Taliban.

"We had given them two options. Either we announce complete ceasefire in case they stop their operations against us (Taliban) or we cease targeting them and their installations in areas from where they withdraw their troops," explained the Taliban leader.

According to the Taliban, in the two days of talks Khalilzad and Gen Miller shared with them the exact location of their bases and installations. "They wanted to ensure security of these installations and their non-governmental organisations even after their withdrawal. Also, they wanted us to ensure security of the Afghan people who would secure US installations," the Taliban members said.

Taliban leaders in Qatar and Afghanistan said US forces in Afghanistan had made considerable reduction in their operations and airstrikes against them, particularly following the recent visit of President Donald Trump to Kabul.

In Afghanistan, Taliban commanders claimed they had received instructions from their top leaders to "avoid" targeting US troops and their installations until they attacked them. "There is almost an unannounced ceasefire between us as the US forces had stopped operations since Saturday following the beginning of the peace talks in Doha. From our side there has been no attack on US forces anywhere in Afghanistan in the past two days," claimed a Taliban leader in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

However, the Taliban leader said the ceasefire for US forces would have nothing to do with their operations against the Afghan government. "That is what we had discussed with the US leadership and they agreed with us that we would continue our operations against the Afghan government even if we announce a ceasefire for the US," said the Taliban commander.

Another senior Taliban said they were close to signing the peace deal. "All issues with the US have already been resolved in our previous negotiations. Now our representatives are meeting them to overcome some minor issues related to the peace accord. And to decide when and where to announce the peace agreement."

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