Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

US envoy tells of 'excellent progress' with Taliban amid concerns over Afghanistan stability

Experts warn that talks could backfire and embolden the fundamentalist movement

The US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said progress had been made during talks on Afghanistan’s future. AFP
The US special representative for Afghan peace and reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said progress had been made during talks on Afghanistan’s future. AFP

The US special representative to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, concluded another round of talks with the Taliban on Monday, and spoke of “excellent progress”.

Mr Khalilzad, the first US official to lead talks with the militant group, concluded three days of negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar before he left for India on Monday.

“I’ve spent the past few days in Doha, focused on the remaining issues in completing a potential deal with the Taliban that would allow for a conditions-based troop withdrawal," he tweeted.

"We have made excellent progress."

US and Taliban representatives will continue the talks after Mr Khalilzad's departure to “discuss technical details as well as steps and mechanisms required for a successful implementation of the four-part agreement we've been working".

The four issues are counter-terrorism assurances, US troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue and a comprehensive ceasefire.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that the US was preparing to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for concessions from the Taliban, including a ceasefire and the renunciation of Al Qaeda.

It could reduce the number of US troops from 14,000 to between 8,000 and 9,000, which is a similar number as when President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

The Trump administration has had eight rounds of negotiations with the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

But experts warn that the Taliban may fulfil its wishes for a US withdrawal without fully adhering to the agreement.

“We have to wait and see if the deal between Mr Khalilzad and the Taliban will lead to peace or just an American withdrawal,” said Husain Haqqani, the director of the South and Central Asia programme at the Hudson Institute.

Mr Haqqani also served as Pakistani ambassador to Washington.

“Talks with the Taliban so far have only emboldened them into thinking that they can bring down the Afghan government and restore their 'Islamic Emirate' once the Americans withdraw,” he told The National.

“A deal will lead to peace only if the Taliban are made to agree to a ceasefire and if their share in the future of Afghanistan is subject to accepting compromise with the Afghan government."

Kamran Bokhari, the founding director of the Centre for Global Policy, was cautious about the fate of any such agreement.

“The Trump administration is pressing ahead with these talks on the basis of a key assumption that the Taliban will actually deliver on their pledge to block efforts by transnational extremist forces from using Afghanistan as a launch pad for international terrorist attacks,” Mr Bokhari said.

“First, it is really unclear that the Taliban has the capability or the intent to uphold their end of the bargain,” he told The National.

Discussing a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan between the Taliban and its opponents, Mr Bokhari warned of a greater risk “that the two sides will descend into conflict".

He said this would ultimately undermine US goals by enabling conditions in which transnational extremists could operate.

Updated: August 6, 2019 11:42 AM

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