The United States and the Taliban have made “significant progress” this week in their peace talks to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan, even if they still face some major obstacles.
“The meetings here have been more productive than they have been in the past, and we have made significant progress on crucial issues,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Reconciliation in Afghanistan, tweeted on Saturday. after six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
Asked by AFP, a senior Taliban based in Pakistan shared this optimism, ensuring that both sides had “agreed on major points.” “We are moving forward and we have already made a lot of progress,” he added.
The American administration of Donald Trump began last summer very discreet discussions with representatives of the Afghan insurgents in Doha, where the Taliban have a representative office dedicated to such diplomatic initiatives. After several sessions, Washington finally admitted that Zalmay Khalilzad had direct contact with the Taliban.
And this week, discussions in Qatar lasted longer than previous times. The special envoy, who is used to tweeting every day during his travels, was silent for the duration of these new talks.
“We will continue this momentum and resume negotiations soon.There are a number of issues to settle,” he finally assured Saturday.
Although it has not specified the progress made in recent days, the hypotheses circulating include a possible withdrawal of US troops in exchange for the guarantee by the Taliban, no longer to host foreign extremists or jihadist groups considered as terrorists by Washington – the original reason for the US intervention launched after the attacks of September 11, 2011. At the time the Taliban had power in Kabul and the war unleashed by the United States was intended to drive them out and to eliminate the al Qaeda network and its leader Osama bin Laden.
Seventeen years later, President Trump has never hidden his desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. Although he initially refused to do so under the pressure of the military leaders who even convinced him, in the summer of 2017, to send reinforcements, Washington finally decided, at the end of 2018, to start organizing the withdrawal of half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Was it already a pledge given to the Taliban before these talks?
“The United States has accepted many of our requests,” assured AFP Saturday the high ranking Islamist insurgents.
Their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that the “progress” from Monday to Saturday related to “the withdrawal of foreign troops”, which was on the agenda.
– “Resolving the last disputes” –
Several nodes still remain to be solved.
“There is no resolution of the conflict until we agree on everything, and this” everything “must include a dialogue between Afghans and a complete ceasefire”, warned Zalmay Khalilzad, suggesting that these were the main stumbling blocks.
The Taliban representative also acknowledged that both sides were still seeking “a compromise to resolve the remaining disputes”, including the issue of the “Afghan Government”. Their official spokesman even denied in his communiqué any agreement on a ceasefire or on future negotiations with “the administration of Kabul”.
This issue has already wrecked other attempts to end the conflict in the past: the Taliban categorically refuse to speak directly to the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, recognized by the international community, as a “puppet” Americans, only valid interlocutors in their eyes as long as they are present militarily in the country. “As long as there is no agreement on the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, any progress on other subjects is impossible,” warned the Taliban spokesman.
The authorities in Kabul have expressed concerns over the last few weeks about the peace talks they are missing.
To reassure them, the American envoy announced that he was going immediately to Afghanistan to take stock with them.