US-Taliban Talks: Working to Find Formulas That Work For Both Sides

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Ceasefire, complete withdrawal timeline, direct Taliban talk with Afghan government are key issues on the table, as US-Taliban negotiations in Qatar enter fifth day.

PKONWEB Report (New York/Islamabad) — US and Taliban negotiators went on a two-day recess on Thursday “for internal deliberations… after three days of solid talks.”

The two sides resumed their fifth round of talks on Saturday, as America’s chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad reported steady progress toward an eventual peace in Afghanistan.

“We continue to take slow, steady steps toward an understanding and eventually peace” in Afghanistan, Khalilzad added in his tweet.

Khalilzad, who is leading the US team in the talks in Doha, said both sides continue to focus on four key issues: the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban’s cooperation in fighting Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State (IS) group, a ceasefire and the inclusion of all Afghan factions, including the government, in the talks.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Aljazeera, “We have two core issues. The withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan is a core issue for us. And a core issue for the American side is that the soil of Afghanistan should not be used against the Americans and against its allies.”

“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 said.

In the latest round of talks, working groups are trying to find formulas that work for both sides, the report said.

The ongoing talks were preceded by a working lunch on Monday between Mulla Abdul Baradar Akhund, head of Taliban’s political council and co-founder of the Taliban movement and Khalilzad, who met the respected leader among the Taliban for the first time.

Baradar is thought to bring decision making authority to the negotiating table. Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for facilitating the travel of Taliban leaders to Qatar.

As talks proceed raising hopes that the two sides are closing in on a peace deal to end the 17-year-long unwinnable war in Afghanistan, Taliban sources in Qatar told BBC that the initial draft of an agreement between the two sides was ready and could be finalized in this round of talks.

The sources said that representatives of the United Nations and the Norwegian government were providing technical support to the negotiators.

The New York Times reported on Friday that the negotiators in Doha were working on a plan that calls for the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan in five years.

The plan, prepared by the Pentagon, requires all foreign forces to leave Afghanistan during this five-year period, the report added.

But Taliban officials told journalists that so far there’s no agreement on the timing of the withdrawal.

The United States insists that a complete ceasefire is necessary for the success of the peace process, and the condition that any final agreement on Afghanistan must include the government.

“As talks continue in Doha, there is also progress on forming a national team in Kabul ready to engage in intra-Afghan dialogue and talks with the Taliban,” Mr Khalilzad tweeted.

But despite repeated requests from Kabul, the Taliban continue to refuse to engage with the Afghan government.

The Afghan media reported on Saturday that in Kabul, the Afghan government has expedited efforts to form an “all inclusive national team” to join the talks in Doha. But it’s not clear if the Taliban were willing to talk to the Afghan government officials.

The reports said that former Afghan envoy to Islamabad Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal and former deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai were in Doha for consultations with Ambassador Khalilzad on issues around the peace talks.

Two Afghan officials have gone to Doha with a proposal that suggests forming a large national team for talks with the Taliban. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai is likely to lead this team, reported local daily Dawn citing Afghan media report.

More than half of the team members will come from opposition politicians and non-governmental groups. Government representatives will not have decision-making authority and will have to consult the government before taking a decision.

While Mullah Baradar is leading an all powerful 14-member Taliban delegation, the US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad is heading his 15-memebr team which observers say could be decisive–Baradar’s presence in Qatar is thought to improve chances of a deal, observers say.

The delegations have been working to hammer out details of a framework agreement reached in six days of negotiations in Doha in January.

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