Officials in Afghanistan report progress in their “informal” talks with U.S. interlocutors on hammering out “a joint text” of a proposed bilateral security agreement. The U.S. is calling for a quick end to the talks, but a foreign ministry spokesman in Kabul reiterated Sunday the fate of the long-awaited document is linked to American guarantees for peace, stability, security and development of Afghan institutions.
The U.S.-led military coalition plans to remove most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by end of next year. Washington, however, intends to station a small number of troops in the country beyond 2014 to continue helping Afghans with their national security.
U.S. officials are negotiating with Afghan leaders on a security cooperation agreement that would define the status of the residual American force. But those talks were suspended in June when President Hamid Karzai boycotted U.S.-backed peace talks with the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai on Sunday confirmed to reporters in Kabul that “informal” talks with U.S. officials to finalize the security deal are under way, and the two sides have made progress on a joint draft.
But the spokesman reiterated that his country wants the final document to include provisions such as U.S. “guarantees for security, peace, stability and development of Afghan state institutions.” He added that these guarantees are among the issues to be discussed in future meetings, saying there is no deadline set for signing the agreement.
The head of the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, has emphasized the need for signing the pact. He told the Associated Press the agreement will strengthen the confidence of Afghan security forces to deal with challenges facing them.
The American commander added it will also send a clear message to the Afghan people and Taliban insurgents that the international community remains committed to the future stability of Afghanistan.
“We are still on track for a change in mission at the end of 2014 and we will be transitioning to a post-2014 mission some time in the late fall of 2014. But we will still be engaged with our Afghan counterparts through 2014 and still work in those areas, where identified as requiring extra work," Dunford said.
During a recent trip to Kabul, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins said Washington has already made substantial commitments to continue financing the Afghan security forces after 2014 and remains committed to do so in the future.
There are 66,000 Americans among some 100,000 international troops currently deployed in Afghanistan. By February, the U.S. presence will be reduced to half while other nations also plan deep cuts.
But analysts are skeptical whether Afghan national security forces will be able to deal with the Taliban after 2014. Some believe that hostilities will continue unless insurgents are engaged in a sustainable political reconciliation process.
On Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mosazai revealed that Taliban leaders sheltering in Pakistan had secretly contacted the Afghan government about joining the peace process.
But, he said, “those Taliban leaders who contacted the government or want to initiate peace talks were either killed or put in jails in Pakistan." He said the Pakistani government’s “noncooperation” remains a major obstacle to opening a peace dialogue with the Taliban.
A Taliban spokesman on Saturday denied the group's leaders were in contact with Kabul authorities covertly or overtly.
For its part, Islamabad rejects allegations that it is trying to influence the events in Afghanistan in any way. Instead, it says, Pakistan is seeking to facilitate an “intra-Afghan” dialogue to end the 12-year conflict.
Pakistan was one of the three countries that recognized the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, allegedly supported the emergence of the Islamist movement on the Afghan political scene and supposedly still maintains close ties with fugitive Taliban leaders.