PESHAWAR — The Afghan Taliban and US officials on Saturday agreed on a preliminary draft of likely peace accord, including US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 18 months, prisoners’ exchange and lifting the ban on movement of Taliban leaders from the blacklist, according to Taliban sources. It was the first time Taliban and the US officials held such a long meeting.
Their meeting started last Monday, January 21, and concluded on Saturday.
“We didn’t sign any formal agreement but agreed on certain important points. There were several ups and downs but finally we agreed on three crucial issues. The US officials agreed to withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan in 18 months. They will lift a ban on Taliban leaders from blacklist and will exchange prisoners,” said a Taliban source privy to the peace talks in Qatar.
In return, the Taliban agreed they would not allow Afghanistan to be used by al-Qaeda and ISIS or any other militant organisation against the US and its allies in future.
According to the Taliban sources, the talks had stalled on Friday when US officials allegedly backtracked on the talks agenda and asked the Taliban to publicly announce their separation from al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The Taliban representatives reportedly denounced the ISIS but refused to separate themselves from al-Qaeda, arguing that they had already announced allegiance to the Afghan Taliban and its supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada.
However, both sides again returned to peace talks on Friday afternoon, when the Taliban particularly mentioned that they would never allow al-Qaeda and ISIS to use their soil for their nefarious designs against the US and its allies or any other country.
After these three points are implemented, then they would work on other issues, including the formation of an interim government in Afghanistan, ceasefire and involving the Afghan government in the peace and reconciliation process.
However, another Taliban leader said US will first fulfil commitment of complete withdrawal in 18 months, lift ban on their leadership and exchange prisoners.
After these three objectives are achieved, then an interim government would be installed in Afghanistan, for which the Taliban would recommend their people. The interim government would be selected for three years.
“Taliban will then officially announce ceasefire and will also involve the Afghan government in the peace and reconciliation process,” said a Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
According to Taliban sources, only Taliban representatives and US officials had agreed upon these points.
As per their plan, Zalmay Khalilzad will first go to Kabul to take the Afghan government into confidence about these developments and would then fly back to Washington to seek approval of US authorities.
“And after the Afghan government and US authorities agreed, then US and Taliban will hold another important meeting in the first week of February in Doha where they would formally sign an agreement,” said a Taliban leader. Taliban new chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar will chair the next meeting.
Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly arrived in Kabul on Saturday to meet Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and discuss progress in peace talks with the Taliban. Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday confirmed significant progress during lengthy talks with the Taliban. In his official Twitter account, Khalilzad wrote that he wanted to build on six days of meetings in Doha.
“Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past,” he said without providing details. “We made significant progress on vital issues.
“We will build on the momentum and resume talks shortly. We have a number of issues left to work out,” he tweeted.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire,” he tweeted.
According to the Taliban sources, it was also decided that the future government in Afghanistan would end its ties with the Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch insurgents and would not work against the interests of Pakistan.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said their representatives continued meeting with US officials till late Saturday afternoon and he had no idea what was finally decided.