Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal

Taliban officials said U.S. negotiators on Saturday agreed a draft peace deal stipulating the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within 18 months of the agreement being signed.

The details were given to Reuters by Taliban sources at the end of six days of talks with U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at ending the United States’ longest war.

They have yet to be confirmed by U.S. officials nor has either side released an official statement. Officials at the U.S. embassy in Kabul were not immediately available to comment.

Khalilzad is heading to the Afghan capital Kabul to brief President Ashraf Ghani after the longer-than expected talks, the sources and a diplomat said.

According to the Taliban sources, the hardline Islamic group gave assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the United States and its allies — a key early demand of Washington.

It is not known if the draft is acceptable to both sides or when it will be completed and signed.

The Taliban sources said a key provision to the deal included a ceasefire but they had yet to confirm a timeline and will only open talks with Afghan representatives once the ceasefire is implemented.

Up until now, the Taliban has repeatedly rejected the Afghan government’s offer of holding talks, preferring instead to talk directly to the U.S. side, which it regards as its main enemy.

“In 18 months if the foreign forces are withdrawn and ceasefire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.

Fresh talks on the draft are expected in February, again in the Qatari capital Doha, the Taliban sources said.

They expect their side to be led by new political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s co-founder and a former military commander who was released from prison in Pakistan last year.

While they said his appointment had boosted momentum for a deal, it was unclear if he joined the talks.

Taliban officials believe the U.S. was keen to get Baradar — who was captured in a joint Pakistani-U.S. intelligence raid in 2010 — to the table so they could be sure of speaking to the movement’s most powerful figures.

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This article has been posted by a News Hour Correspondent. For queries, please contact through [email protected]
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