US/Taliban talks stalemate

48

Talks on a pact that would allow the United States to end its longest war and withdraw from Afghanistan ended without agreement and both sides will consult leaders on the next steps, the Taliban said.

The talks in Qatar since late last year brought hope for a deal allowing US troops to leave in exchange for a Taliban promise that Afghanistan will not be used by militants as a base from which to plot attacks abroad.

The United States is pushing for Taliban agreement on other elements: power-sharing talks with the US-backed government and a ceasefire.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the eighth round of talks, which a US official said involved technical details of the pact’s implementation, ended early and both sides would consult their leaders.

“We prolonged our meeting in the hope of reaching a peace agreement but it didnot happen,” a member of the Taliban negotiating team said.

“We discussed a number of issues and developed consensus on some but couldn’t reach a conclusion,” said the official who declined to be identified.

US negotiators were demanding the Taliban announce a ceasefire and start direct talks with the Afghan government.

The Taliban, fighting since ousting in 2001 to expel foreign forces and establish an Islamic state, responded by calling for the United States to announce a roadmap for the withdrawal of forces, the Taliban official said.

US officials were not immediately available for comment but chief US negotiator, veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, said hard work was being done “toward a lasting and honourable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan posing no threat to any other country”.

An agreement would allow US President Donald Trump to achieve his aim of ending a war launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

STALEMATE

The war has stalemated, with neither side able to defeat the other and casualties rising among civilians and combatants.

Without a Taliban commitment to power-sharing talks and a ceasefire, there are fears the insurgents will fight on when US forces leave in a bid to overthrow government.

Government has not been part of the talks. The Taliban refuse to recognise or negotiate with it.

President Ashraf Ghani appeared to question the talks, saying his nation would decide its future, not outsiders.

“Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends or neighbours. The fate of Afghanistan will be decided in Afghanistan,” Ghani told a gathering for prayers marking the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival.

He said a presidential election, scheduled for September 28, in which he hopes to win a second term, was essential.

The Taliban denounce the election as a sham and threaten to attack rallies. There has been speculation the vote could be postponed if the United States struck the deal with the militants.

Khalilzad said in his Eid message scholars believed the deeper meaning of the festival was to sacrifice one’s ego.

“Leaders on all sides of the war in Afghanistan must take this to heart as we strive for peace,” he said.