WASHINGTON: Taliban representatives and influential Afghans claimed on Tuesday to have reached a landmark roadmap for peace, which commits the militants to avoid attacking civilians and civilian institutions.

Also on Tuesday, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad left Doha for Beijing and Washington for consultations after another “positive” round of talks with Taliban representatives.

Taliban representatives held a two-day peace conference with a group of influential Afghans at Doha, Qatar, on July 7 and 8. They released a declaration on Tuesday carrying details of a roadmap that they hope could hasten the end of the 18-year war.

The declaration includes a clear pledge by the Taliban to reduce violence against “civilians, public health institutions, schools, universities, hospitals and homes”. This pledge is seen as a “security assurance” before a final deal for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Ambassador Khalilzad, who is holding the seventh round of peace talks with Taliban representatives in Doha, met Taliban leaders on Tuesday, a day after the intra-Afghan talks, and later tweeted a photocopy of the joint declaration.

Soon after the meeting, he wrote in a tweet that he was “headed to China now and then will return to Washington to report and consult on the Afghan peace process.”

On Saturday, when the US-Taliban talks paused for two days to facilitate the intra-Afghan dialogue, Mr Khalilzad said in a tweet that the last six days “have been the most productive” to date.

“We made substantive progress on all 4 parts of a peace agreement: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue & negotiations, and permanent & comprehensive ceasefire,” he wrote.

He sent out a series of tweets on Tuesday, thanking Qatar and Germany for organising the intra-Afghan talks. “This dialogue gives hope for further progress to end the 40-year-long war and the terrible suffering of the Afghan people,” he wrote.

He further said the United States would persist in “our efforts” for peace by resuming talks with the Taliban.

“It’s past midnight and the intra-Afghan Conference on Peace just concluded on a very positive note,” he wrote in another tweet. “I congratulate the participants -- Afghan society representatives across generations, senior government officials and Taliban -- for finding a common ground.”

The intra-Afghan declaration also commits all factions to work for protecting women’s rights within an “Islamic framework”.

All sides agreed not to make aggressive and threatening statements and instead use a “gentle language” in their announcements.

The participants expressed support for the ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban and hoped that the negotiations would end the “imposed war” in Afghanistan and would lead to a lasting peace.

The participants also supported the quest for a “sustainable, global and dignified peace” which fulfills the will of the Afghan people.

The participants agreed that to “end to the Afghan conflict, there is an urgent need for a mutual understanding among various levels of the Afghan society”.

They also urged the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan and reminded the neighbouring countries that stability in Afghanistan would bring peace and progress to the entire region.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2019