WASHINGTON: US special envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday that American and Taliban officials had agreed in principle on all key issues: keeping terrorists out of Afghanistan, withdrawal of all American troops, a ceasefire and Kabul-Taliban talks.

“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” Mr Khalilzad, said 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,” he said.

Later on Monday, Ambassador Khalilzad, who led the American team in last week’s peace talks with Taliban in Doha, Qatar, also said he had briefed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the progress made in Doha.

He returned to Kabul on Sunday.

US special envoy says talks are heading in the right direction

“Briefed President Ashraf Ghani last night on the progress we’ve made. Peace is America’s highest priority in Afghanistan, a goal we believe all Afghans share,” he tweeted.

The Afghan president’s office, however, tried to play down Mr Khalilzad’s claim of making “significant progress” in talks with the Taliban.

The official Afghan statement confirmed that Mr Khalilzad briefed President Ghani and his cabinet on Doha talks but disagreed with some of the points the envoy made in his interview to NYT.

The statement said Ambassador Khalilzad did talk about discussing a ceasefire with the Taliban but also said that “there was no progress yet on that issue”.

The Taliban demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, but that there was no agreement on that issue either, the statement added.

Mr Khalilzad, however, told NYT that both US and Taliban teams felt confident that the talks were heading in the right direction.

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

A senior American official told NYT that the Taliban delegation had asked for time to confer with their leadership about the American insistence that the insurgents talk with the Afghan government and agree to a ceasefire as part of any finalised deal.

The official said they had made it clear to the Taliban that all the issues discussed were “interconnected” as part of a “package deal,” NYT added.

In an address to his nation after being briefed by Mr Khalilzad, President 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.

AFP adds: In Kabul, President Ghani said on Monday the Taliban should “enter serious talks” with his government, after the insurgents and Washington both touted progress during unprecedented negotiations in Qatar last week.

“I call on the Taliban to... show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans’ demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,” Ghani said in a nationally televised address from the presidential palace in Kabul.

“We want peace, we want it fast but we want it with a plan,” he continued.

“We should not forget that the victims of this war are Afghans ... No Afghan wants foreign troops to remain in their country indefinitely. No Afghan wants to face suicide attacks in hospitals, schools, mosques and parks.”

Civilians continue to pay a terrible price for the Taliban insurgency, with some estimates showing the Afghan conflict overtook Syria to become the deadliest in the world in 2018.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019