Taliban, US close to peace agreement
PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban said they had received positive signals from the US negotiation team in Doha and were close to a possible ceasefire plan.
The new development was reported after the recent warning by the top Taliban leadership that it would quit the peace process in case the US didn’t show sincerity in the ongoing negotiations.
Senior members of the Afghan Taliban in Qatar and Afghanistan said they had been told by the US negotiation team that President Donald Trump had agreed to the draft of the proposed peace accord. They said the long-awaited peace agreement could be signed once President Trump approved the draft of the proposed peace deal.
According to Taliban sources privy to the peace talks in Doha, their top leadership had agreed to a ceasefire plan for a certain period of time with the US in case the US also declared a ceasefire and stopped all military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Taliban denied media reports that new points had been inserted in the draft of the proposed peace accord. They said no additions had been made to the draft.
“It is almost the same draft that we thoroughly discussed and finalised in September 2019 when President Trump all of a sudden scrapped the peace process. We offered to declare a brief ceasefire of seven to 10 days and since then are waiting for the final US response,” said a senior Taliban leader.
Pleading anonymity, he said the US negotiation team was now seeking the final approval from President Trump for the ceasefire plan and subsequent peace agreement.
Taliban said they would declare a ceasefire with the US, but may not make it public. “Once we agree to a ceasefire plan, we would ensure there is no single incident from our side against the US. And in return, they would have to cease all their operations against us in Afghanistan,” said the Taliban leader privy to the peace talks in Doha.
About the Afghan government and its armed forces, Taliban said their leadership had agreed to bring a considerable decline in their attacks against them and could even stop all assaults but won’t call it a ceasefire. Taliban said it would depend on the Afghan government and its forces how they implement the unannounced ceasefire.
“From our side, there will be complete cessation in attacks on the Afghan government and its installations during a certain period of time. We could even extend the ceasefire period if we noticed progress in the peace talks with the US,” said the Taliban leader.
In Afghanistan, Taliban said they had received positive signals from the US negotiators in Doha in the past few days. “Our top leadership had recently sent a delegation of influential Ulema (religious scholars) to Qatar to get updated about the progress made in the peace talks. They gave a deadline to the negotiation team to conclude the talks in case they felt it isn’t going to give results,” a Taliban leader said.
He said their top leadership had almost lost interest in the peace process and decided to quit the negotiations. They claimed that the US then involved the Qatar government in the talks and convened a joint meeting to brak the stalemate.
The Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar last week held a meeting with the US representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in the presence of Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani in Doha and conveyed the message of the Taliban leadership to them.
According to Taliban, the Qatar foreign minister requested the Taliban leadership not to leave the negotiating table and on his personal level and on behalf of Qatar offered to become a guarantor in the peace talks between the US and Taliban.
“This is not first time the Qatari leadership made this commitment with us. They made similar promises in the past to help sign a peace accord but that never happened,” he said.
This time, he said, the Qatari foreign minister personally sought a few days of time and assured them to help declare a ceasefire and then facilitate the signing of the peace deal between the US and Taliban.
“Let us see what happens now. Many of our people suspect that the US wanted to divert our attention from our preparations for the spring offensive. We have already started our preparations and recruited a large number of fighters for the spring offensive in case the peace talks don’t yield results,” said the Taliban leader.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had received a phone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informing him of “notable progress” in the talks with the Taliban. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment.
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