ISLAMABAD - The United States and the Taliban have agreed to establish two “technical teams” to determine details for the eventual withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan and for preventing terrorists from using Afghan soil against America and its allies, the insurgent group said Wednesday.
Chief Taliban negotiator, Mullah Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, revealed the details after nearly a week of marathon discussions which concluded on Saturday in Qatar with the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.
“The two technical teams will prepare proposals and take decisions and bring them to the table in the next meeting in Doha set for February 25,” Stanikzai told a pro-Taliban media outlet. He added that a larger meeting would then be arranged, with major powers, the United Nations and representatives of Islamic countries in attendance as “guarantors” where assurances will be given that all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan.
The U.S. special representative for Afghan reconciliation is urging direct talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government as he confirmed details in a draft peace deal aimed at ending the 17-year conflict in the country.
Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times in Kabul that the deal framework would have to be "fleshed out before it becomes an agreement," but stressed 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.”
In return, the U.S.
The Taliban will give their own assurances at the meeting that no-one will be allowed to use Afghan soil for international terrorism. The U.S. side will also announce a timeline for the troop withdrawal because “ these troops cannot leave at once, in a day or in a week. It will require time,” Stanikzai acknowledged, adding these details will also be worked out by the technical teams.
He also asserted the U.S. has agreed to help in reconstruction efforts after its troop withdrawal, something he said the Taliban would welcome. "We have told them that after ending your military intervention, we will welcome U.S. engineers, doctors and others if they want to come back for reconstruction of Afghanistan," he said. "And they have promised to do so."
There was no immediate reaction from the Afghan government or U.S. officials to the assertions made by the Taliban chief negotiator. In a series of tweets Wednesday, President Donald Trump acknowledged that negotiations “are proceeding well in Afghanistan after 18 years of fighting.”
On Monday, Khalilzad discussed some details of his talks with the Taliban, saying that both sides have agreed “in principle” to a framework that would bind the insurgents to prevent transnational terrorist outfits, including al-Qaida and Islamic State, from using Afghan soil for attacks against America and its allies , as well as neighbors of Afghanistan. In exchange the U.S. will withdraw its troops from the country but would require the Taliban to observe a cease-fire and open dialogue with the Afghan government, the U.S. chief negotiator noted.
Critics said Washington reached the framework deal in haste. Former U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker slammed the deal with the Taliban as a “surrender.”
"This current process bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War. Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering; we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender. The Taliban will offer any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and the Taliban is back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them," Crocker wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
"The deal has “delegitimised President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government." In his interview Wednesday, Stanikzai said that during the talks in Doha, Taliban negotiators rejected American demands for the Taliban to observe a complete cease-fire during withdrawal of foreign troops and engage in direct talks with the Afghan government.
“It is impossible for us to engage in direct talks with the Kabul administration until all U.S. and NATO troops pull out from Afghanistan. We told them [U.S.] that the Kabul government is not legitimate and is the product of American military pressure. It is not an elected government so it cannot represent Afghans and engaging with them would be a waste of time,” Stanikzai insisted.
Addressing a gathering in Kabul Wednesday, President Ghani responded to criticism the U.S. Taliban dialogue has raised questions about the legitimacy of his government. “If [Afghan] government is not legitimate, then where has [the] Taliban gotten their legitimacy from?” Ghani asked. He went on to criticize neighboring Pakistan, which has facilitated Washington’s talks with insurgents, for being behind the Taliban’s violent campaign.
As the U.S. makes headway in its direct talks with the Taliban, a sense of nervousness and betrayal has kicked in, with many government officials and ordinary Afghans fearing the country may return to the chaos it experienced following the Soviet Union's withdrawal in the late 1980s.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S.
Speaking to Afghan television station, 1TV, on Tuesday, Khalilzad noted that the Ghani government lacked consensus on how to move the peace process forward. The station quoted him as saying that “peace requires sacrifice” but “there was still no consensus in the anti-Taliban side on how much sacrifice should be made in peace process.
“We want to leave a good legacy in Afghanistan. We want to have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, having various dimensions including economic, public, political, diplomatic and security,” Khalilzad said.