U.S. and Taliban Agree in Principle to Peace Framework, Envoy Says

KABUL, Afghanistan — American and Taliban officers have agreed in precept to the framework of a deal in which the insurgents would assure Afghan territory is rarely utilized by terrorists, which could lead on to a full pullout of American troops in return for bigger concessions from the Taliban, the chief United States negotiator stated on Monday.

The negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, stated these concessions should embrace the Taliban’s settlement to a cease-fire and to speak immediately with the Afghan authorities, which the insurgents have persistently opposed in the previous.

“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” Mr. Khalilzad stated in an interview with The New York Times in Kabul. “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”

Mr. Khalilzad added: “We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out.”

Keeping Afghanistan from reverting to the terrorist haven utilized by Al Qaeda to plot the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on the United States — the catalyst for the almost two-decade-old warfare — has lengthy been a major demand by American officers.

After 9 years of halting efforts to attain a peace cope with the Taliban, the draft framework, although preliminary, is the most important tangible step towards ending a warfare that has price tens of hundreds of lives and profoundly modified American overseas coverage.

A senior American official, talking on situation of anonymity to focus on persevering with negotiations, stated the Taliban delegation had requested for time to check with their management concerning the American necessities for the insurgents’ settlement to maintain direct talks with the Afghan authorities and to a cease-fire.

The official described all these points as “interconnected” as a part of a “package deal” that was likened to a Russian nesting doll. The official’s account was supported by particulars which have been leaked by some Taliban and Western officers in latest days.

A senior Taliban official with direct data of the talks on Monday confirmed the draft settlement on the problem of overseas troop withdrawal and the Taliban pledge that Afghan soil wouldn’t be used towards others. He stated “working groups” would iron out particulars on a timeline of a withdrawal.

But in an indication that the situations the Americans have demanded could also be tough to attain, the Taliban official stated he didn’t see the settlement as being depending on a cease-fire or direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan authorities. The official declined to specify the Taliban’s place on these points.

The particulars of implementing the Taliban’s pledge to stop worldwide terrorists corresponding to Al Qaeda from utilizing Afghan soil as a launching pad for assaults once more additionally remained unclear.

American officers stated Taliban representatives had informed them the Taliban would “provide guarantees” that may fulfill the American calls for, however they’d not share particulars of an enforcement mechanism.

Although the Taliban have been distancing themselves from Al Qaeda, they’ve by no means denounced the group. Taliban fighters nonetheless intermingle with worldwide militants in elements of Afghanistan and preserve relationships of coexistence with a few of them.

To many analysts of the Afghanistan battle, the small print which have emerged to date in Mr. Khalilizad’s discussions with the Taliban advised an American desperation for a withdrawal from a war regarded as unwinnable, rather than patience for a comprehensive peace deal that could ensure some of the most basic values the Americans have emphasized in their 18-year presence in the country.

Diplomats in Kabul, aware of the way Mr. Khalilzad has characterized the progress in talks, also said the American envoy was candid in his caution that the conditions the United States had presented to the Taliban before a deal could be finalized might prove difficult to reach. Mr. Khalilzad had expressed that he was still seeking ways, including assistance from regional countries, to convince the Taliban to meet the Afghan side and agree to a cease-fire.

One diplomat said Mr. Khalilzad had suggested the idea of “freezing” the agreement on the two central issues and waiting for Taliban to deliver on the conditions laid out for finalizing it. But he also suggested that might test President Trump’s already waning patience.

Mr. Khalilzad returned to Afghanistan on Sunday to brief the government in Kabul after conducting six days of talks with the Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar.

In an address to the nation on Monday after Mr. Khalilzad had briefed him, President Ashraf Ghani expressed concern that a peace deal would be rushed. He highlighted previous settlements that ended in bloodshed, including when the Soviet Union withdrew from the country in the late 1980s.

Despite a promise of a peace deal at the time, Afghanistan broke into anarchy, and years later the Afghan president who had been in charge during that transition, Najibullah, was hanged from a pole at a traffic roundabout.

“We want peace quickly, we want it soon, but we want it with prudence,” Mr. Ghani said. “Prudence is important so we do not repeat past mistakes.”

There is concern among senior Afghan officials that the Afghan government has still been sidelined from the talks. Officials close to Mr. Ghani say he is particularly concerned that the Americans might negotiate important agreements that Afghan officials are not party to, potentially including the shape of an interim government outside of elections. Mr. Ghani has repeatedly insisted that such details be taken up only in direct talks between the government and the Taliban.

Fueling Mr. Ghani’s suspicion is the circulation of a potential draft agreement written by a former American diplomat who had held several meetings with the Taliban before Mr. Khalilzad was appointed to the role.

A leaked draft of the document written by the former diplomat, Laurel Miller, for the RAND Corporation, has been circulating in Kabul. The draft tries to envision “as realistically as possible” what a final peace agreement could look like, and one element is the formation of a transitional government on interim basis that could include the Taliban. That transition authority would then pave the way for changing the Constitution and holding elections that would include the Taliban in some agreed-upon way.

Mr. Ghani, who is running for a second five-year term in elections now scheduled for July, has repeatedly rejected that idea.

“Afghans do not accept an interim government — not today, not tomorrow, not in a hundred years,” Mr. Ghani, a former academic, said last week. “Whoever comes up with such stupid ideas — a few former officials that I wouldn’t even accept as my students — should think again.”

On Monday, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that he was trying to push the Taliban to negotiate those points directly with the Afghan side.

“There are a lot of reports that we have discussed an interim government: No, I have not gotten into any of that discussion,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “I have not entered into what that could look like with the Taliban — they would like to talk to me about it, but I have not.”

Mr. Ghani’s position may have been weakened in his struggle to unite a fractured Afghanistan in the face of the Taliban. At a time when he has needed consensus, he has repeatedly picked fights with the political elite in what he says is an effort to end the patronage embedded in governance. Diplomats have commended such a goal but some say it should not be the priority at the moment.

During the talks last week, the Taliban signaled seriousness by appointing one of their most powerful officials from the original movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, as their chief peace negotiator.

Though American and Afghan officials said that Mr. Baradar was not directly involved in the Qatar meetings last week, with some sessions lasting as long as eight hours, he was expected to take the lead in the talks to come. Senior American officials said new high-level talks would start in late February, but suggested that teams from both sides could start on technical details before then.

The interview with Mr. Khalilzad on Monday was the first time that the American government had directly confirmed some details of the agreement taking shape.

Source link Nytimes.com

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