Taliban, US “finalise” peace deal, announcement after days

Trump’s remarks on troops’ timeline raise questions about deal

By: Tahir Khan

The Taliban and the US have “finalized” a peace agreement in talks in Qatar to end the war in Afghanistan, sources familiar with the negotiations said on Monday.

However, an announcement will be made about the agreement after few days when details are shared with the Afghan government, the sources in Qatar said.

There was no official confirmation and Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen did not reply to queries.

American peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US side in the talks, will travel to Kabul to brief Afghan leaders on the agreement. He is likely to visit Brussels to seek consent of the NATO officials about the agreement, Daily Times has learnt.

The agreement will be announced in the presence of international guarantors and a date will be announced later.

Sources said Qatari officials have told the Taliban representatives that they had invited several countries to attend the signing ceremony of the agreement as guarantors, but they have not yet received any confirmation. The Taliban spokesman earlier said they wanted the UN, OIC, Russia, China and other neighboring countries as guarantors of the agreement.

Officials in Pakistan, which could be a guarantor, say no one could become guarantor until details of the deal were known.

Qatar plans to arrange a large number of pigeons to set them free as sign of peace on the occasion of the signing of the peace deal.

As the US and the Taliban are talking about the deal on all key issues, including troop withdrawal, US President Donald Trump said on Monday there was no timeline for US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Trump’s remarks again created doubts if the Taliban and the US had actually finalised the deal. The Taliban insist timeframe for troop withdrawal is a priority for them and in return they will ensure the Afghan soil is not used against the US and its allies.

Speaking at a press conference on the last day of the 45th G7 Summit in France, Trump said, “No timeline, whatever it is, no rush. We’re there, we’re really a peacekeeping force more than anything else, frankly. We could win that war in a very short period of time, but I’m not looking to kill 10 million people, Okay?”

“And we are working along with the Taliban, with the government and other people too, we will see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Zalamy Khalilzad on Monday dismissed as “not true” a Reuters report quoting two unnamed Taliban commanders alleges that the US would cease support of the Afghan forces as part of any agreement.

“No one should be intimidated or fooled by propaganda! Let me be clear: We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement w/ the Talibs. All sides agree Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations,” Khalilzad tweeted.

US and Taliban officials have been negotiating in Qatar since last year on an agreement centred on the withdrawal of US forces, and an end to their longest-ever war, in exchange for a Taliban guarantee that international militant groups will not plot from Afghan soil.

US negotiators have been pressing the Taliban to agree to peace talks with the Kabul government and to a ceasefire, but a senior Taliban official said that would not happen. “We will continue our fight against the Afghan government and seize power by force,” said the Taliban commander on condition of anonymity.

Trump is impatient to get US forces out of Afghanistan and end the 18-year war that was launched after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

But there are fears among Afghan officials and US national security aides that a US troop withdrawal could see Afghanistan plunged into a new round of civil war that could herald a return of Taliban rule and international militants, including the militant Islamic State (IS) group, finding a refuge.

Another Taliban commander, who also declined to be identified, said a deal was expected to be signed this week under which US forces, which provide all-important air support to Afghan troops, will stop attacking the Taliban and the militants would end their fight against the US troops.

Under the pact, the US would also cease supporting the Afghan government, the Taliban officials said. “The Americans will not come to the assistance of the Afghan government and its forces in their fight against us,” the first Taliban official said.

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