‘Gap Narrowing’ in US-Taliban Talks over Afghanistan

PKONWEB Report – The Taliban on Saturday said the gap is narrowing in talks with Washington’s special peace envoy over a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The two sides are continuing to meet in Qatar, where the insurgent movement maintains a political office.

In a voice message to The Associated Press, the Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said both sides have offered new proposals for drawing down U.S. and NATO forces. This would be a significant initial step toward a deal to end nearly 18 years of war and America’s longest military engagement.

“There are proposals to lower the gap between the two sides, but (it) still needs negotiation to reach a final agreement,” he said in an English language statement.

Related article: Amid Talks of Withdrawal or Ceasefire First, US-Taliban Peace Deal Inches Forward

Prior to the ongoing talks, Khalilzad told Tolo News in an interview,
 “We are seeking peace and (a) political settlement … We want peace to  give us the possibility to withdraw.”

But the Taliban has concerns about a cease-fire: Taliban commanders in the field are unlikely to accept a cease-fire while foreign troops are still in Afghanistan, and once a cease-fire is declared it would be difficult to re-start the fighting if the U.S. reneges on its deal.

Other Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations had earlier told AP that the U.S. was seeking a year and a half to withdraw its estimated 14,000 troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban wanted it done in six months.

It remains unknown what new proposals either side has brought to the table.

Seventeen years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the armed resistance group is still active across Afghanistan. Fighting between the Taliban and security forces has intensified since the armed group announced its annual spring offensive in April.

In a tweet at the outset of the latest round of talks with the Taliban earlier this week, Khalilzad said the U.S. and the Taliban need to find common ground. He laid out four “inter-connected issues: troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations and reduction in violence leading to a comprehensive cease fire.”

Until they do, Khalilzad said “nothing will be final.”

Meanehile, Khalilzad has greatly appreciated Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement on Afghanistan.

“PM Imran’s appeal for reduction of violence and policy against promoting internal conflict in other nations has potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role.”

Khan last week said Pakistan has been supportive of the peace talks and will not be party to any Afghan conflict. “Pakistan is highly dismayed by the surge of violence in Afghanistan from all sides. The so called offensives are condemnable and will undermine the peace process”, he said.

Khan added, “It is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion. Pakistan implores all parties to recognize the importance of the moment and seize it.”

Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alice G Wells were in Islamabad last week.