Progress made in talks with US, insist Afghan Taliban

Updated 14 Aug 2019


“The talks have not failed,” Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s chief spokesperson, told Dawn by phone from Doha. — AP/File
“The talks have not failed,” Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s chief spokesperson, told Dawn by phone from Doha. — AP/File

PESHAWAR: Afghan Taliban on Tuesday said that they had made substantial progress in their talks with US interlocutors and that the two sides had dispersed only to seek advice and guidance from their respective leaderships.

“The talks have not failed,” Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s chief spokesperson, told Dawn by phone from Doha.

“This is not correct,” he said when his attention was drawn to reports that the eighth round of negotiations between the Taliban and the United States had failed to reach an agreement.

“There are certain points that need to be consulted upon,” Mr Shaheen said. “There are some technical issues that both sides need to consult their leaderships on and seek advice and guidance,” the spokesperson added.

Media reports had suggested that the Afghan Taliban and their American interlocutors had failed to reach an agreement, contrary to growing optimism, to end the longest war in American history that has cost the US 2,400 lives and $900 billion.

Some Afghan commentators went so far as to suggest that the talks wouldn’t go anywhere, given the Taliban’s belligerence and the Americans’ reluctance to give away too much without getting guarantees from the puritanical militia on certain aspects of the agreement, including the presence of foreign terrorists in Afghanistan.

Spokesperson says implementation part of agreement is being finalised

“Ninety per cent of the issues have been resolved. Only ten per cent are outstanding,” the spokesperson said, without giving any details.

He referred to US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s statement that the two sides had made “excellent progress”. “I also said in my tweet that we have made very good progress,” Mr Shaheen said.

“We discussed mechanism and implementation part (of the proposed agreement) and that’s what we need to consult our respective leaderships about and seek their advice and guidance on,” the spokesperson said. “We want to finalise the mechanism and implementation part,” he said.

His upbeat sentiments about the progress in talks ran contrary to his leader’s statement issued on the eve of Eidul Azha.

Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in his Eid message accused the United States of being disingenuous in pursuing and sitting for talks while executing air strikes on civilian areas.

“The increasing blind and brutal bombings by America during the negotiations process, attacks on civilian areas and the contradictory statements by your military and political officials have generated a cloud of uncertainty about this process and raised doubts about your intentions,” Mr Akhundzada said in his statement.

The two sides appear to have inched closer to an agreement on a possible timeframe about the withdrawal of nearly 14,000 American troops from Afghanistan and guarantees that the Taliban would not allow foreign terrorists to use the country’s soil against any other country.

However, the Taliban have refused to accede to two key American demands: ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue.

In his interview with Dawn on Aug 4, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson had made it clear the two demands would come up for discussion only after an agreement on a timeframe for troops’ pullout.

Mr Shaheen insisted that the Afghan Taliban did not recognise the government in Kabul but considered it as just another party, like many other parties in the Afghan conflict, and would sit down with it only after an agreement was reached with the US on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

But Afghan president in a statement said that Afghanistan’s future could not be “decided outside” and that peace was possible only “between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement”.

Mr Shaheen indicated that negotiations between the Taliban and the US would begin in Doha as soon as the two sides completed consultations with their respective leaderships.

Afghan presidential elections are scheduled for Sept 28 and the US was believed to be pushing for an agreement by Sept 1 to encourage the Afghan Taliban to agree to a ceasefire.

The Taliban have called the elections as “sham” and have warned the Afghan people to stay away from election-related activities.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2019