Afghan Authorities Taliban Announce Breakthrough to Proceed Peace Talks By Reuters

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© Reuters. Inner-Afghan talks are taking place in Doha

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By Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan government and Taliban officials said Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement to continue peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war that was welcomed by the United Nations and Washington.

The agreement sets the path for further discussion, but is seen as a breakthrough as it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire.

“The process including the preamble to the negotiations has been completed and from now on the negotiations will be on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters.

The Taliban spokesman also confirmed this on Twitter.

The deal comes after months of talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, sponsored by the United States, while both sides are still at war and the Taliban’s attacks on Afghan government forces continue unabated.

US special envoy on Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the two sides had “agreed a tripartite agreement that sets out the rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire”.

The Taliban insurgents refused to agree on a ceasefire in the preliminary stages of the talks, despite requests from Western capitals and global bodies, saying it would only be taken up once the route for the talks was agreed.

“This agreement shows that the negotiating parties can agree on difficult issues,” Khalilzad said on Twitter.

The Taliban was ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001 because they refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. A US-backed government has since held power in Afghanistan, even though the Taliban control large parts of the country.

As part of a February agreement, foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for guarantees from the Taliban to combat terrorism.

US President Donald Trump has tried to hasten the withdrawal despite criticism, saying he wants to bring all American soldiers home by Christmas to end America’s longest war.

The Trump administration has since announced that there will be a sharp drop by January, but at least 2,500 soldiers would stay beyond that.

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned NATO on Tuesday against an early withdrawal of troops and said it should “ensure that we bind the further troop reductions in Afghanistan to clear conditions”.

The UN envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, welcomed the “positive development” on Twitter, adding that “this breakthrough should be a stepping stone towards achieving the peace that all Afghans want”.

Last month, a last-minute agreement was reached between the Taliban and government negotiators after the insurgents rejected the document’s preamble for mentioning the Afghan government by name.

A European Union diplomat familiar with the process said the two sides kept some contentious issues on their own to deal with separately.

“Both sides also know that the Western powers are losing patience and that aid is conditional. So both sides know that they have to move forward in order to make progress,” said the diplomat, asking for anonymity.

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