Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Afghanistan: Taliban hopeful on deal amid new talks with US

‘VERY IMPORTANT’:A Taliban spokesman said a deal would include a guarantee not to attack US forces, but it was not clear how the group would achieve the goal

AP, DOHA

Representatives from the US, Qatar and the Afghan Taliban hold talks in an undisclosed location in Doha on Monday.

Photo: AP via Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Taliban and Washington’s peace envoy are close to reaching an agreement on US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a spokesman for the militants said on Tuesday amid a new round of talks with the US.

Suhail Shaheen said that the deal would also include guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used again as a staging arena for anti-US attacks.

His remarks came during the second day of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who has been trying to negotiate a resolution of the 17-year war in Afghanistan, the US’ longest.

“If we do not reach a solution in this round of talks, then we will in the next round of talks, but that is our target,” Shaheen told reporters.

The sides in the talks are for now sticking to the two-point agenda: US withdrawal and no-attacks guarantees, he said.

The Taliban, who refuse to talk with the Afghan government in Kabul and describe it as a US puppet, have long demanded direct talks with the US, but until Khalilzad’s appointment in September last year, Washington had shied away from opening face-to-face negotiations.

Khalilzad arrived on Monday for the talks and tweeted that this could be “a significant moment” in the process.

Khalilzad’s past rounds of talks with the Taliban focused on US troop withdrawal in exchange for guarantees of no attacks against the US, but it was unclear how close he was on a deal on those issues.

He has also been expected to pressure the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Kabul government.

The Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaeda and its former leader Osama bin Laden, ruled Afghanistan before US forces invaded in October 2001, following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Taliban have made a major comeback in the past few years and carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces.

That has made a peace process even more pressing. US President Donald Trump has expressed frustration at the protracted conflict.

Shaheen did not say how the Taliban — and their main ally, the Haqqani network — could guarantee that Afghanistan would not again harbor terror suspects.

Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahri, is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.

Scores of other militants from Arab countries, including Yemen and Saudi Arabia, are also believed to be living in Afghanistan, aligned with Taliban insurgents, the Islamic State group, which has suffered major defeats in Iraq and Syria, or other factions.

Khalilzad previously said that Washington would demand verifiable guarantees from the Taliban, adding that promises alone would not be sufficient, without elaborating.

The presence at the Doha talks of Taliban cofounder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is considered significant because of his stature within the movement.

Describing Baradar’s presence as “very important,” Shaheen said it was a reflection of “how much importance we are giving to these talks and how [great our] expectations” are.

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