Fri, Jul 05, 2019 - Page 6 News List

US, Taliban rush to rewrite draft withdrawal deal

‘PERSONAL CAPACITY’:A Sunday summit would not include an official delegation from the Afghan government, but would include a cross-section of Afghan society

AP, ISLAMABAD

Taliban and US negotiators were scrambling to rewrite a draft agreement that would outline the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and a verifiable Taliban guarantee to fight terrorism ahead of an all-Afghan peace conference on Sunday.

Officials familiar with the talks, but not authorized to speak about them, said that negotiations went late into the night on Wednesday and were to resume again yesterday — the sixth day of direct talks between the insurgents and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, yesterday told reporters that “the talks are continuing and they will continue tomorrow as well. We have made some progress.”

He previously said that a draft agreement was being rewritten to include agreed-upon clauses.

The two sides have broadened their discussion, he said yesterday, without elaborating.

Until now, the two sides had been divided on the withdrawal timetable, with the US seeking more time.

Taliban officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, earlier said that the US was seeking up to 18 months to complete a troop withdrawal, even as US President Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this week that a withdrawal had already quietly begun and that troop strength had been cut to 9,000.

The president’s statement has since been contradicted by a senior US official, who said that the force strength is unchanged at about 14,000.

Still, Trump’s statements reinforced his often-stated desire to leave Afghanistan and end the US’ 18-year war — the longest in its history.

His eagerness to pull out has strengthened the position of the Taliban, which effectively controls half the country and won a key concession in the planning of the upcoming peace gathering, which is to include no official delegation from the Afghan government.

Germany and Qatar, who are cosponsoring the dialogue and issuing the invitations, said that participants would attend “only in their personal capacity,” a condition Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has strenuously opposed.

He has made no comment on Sunday’s meeting.

The Taliban has steadfastly refused to talk to Ghani’s government, calling it a US puppet, but has said that government officials could attend the conference as private citizens.

Shaheen on Wednesday said on Twitter that 60 people would attend the peace gathering, which Khalilzad called an “essential element” in achieving a peace agreement in Afghanistan.

Atta-ul-Rahman Salim, deputy head of a government-appointed peace council, said that the delegation from Kabul would include a cross-section of Afghanistan’s civil society, including women’s rights activists.

“It is a good first step to hear each other’s side,” he said.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who attended two previous meetings with the Taliban in Moscow, told reporters that he would not be attending the Doha gathering, because he would be in China.

However, he added: “I fully support the coming intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha and am in the picture.”

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