The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Kabul after wrapping up Doha talks, says the United States and the Taliban have reached an agreement in principle, but it is not final until US President Trump agrees on it.
The two sides have held nine rounds of talks in the past ten months.
Talking to TOLOnews, Mr. Khalilzad said that based on the draft agreement, the US will withdraw 5,000 troops from five bases in Afghanistan within 135 days if conditions in the agreement are addressed by the Taliban.
“Yes, we have reached an agreement in principle,” Mr. Khalilzad told TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada just hours after he briefed Afghan leaders on his on the US-Taliban deal. “Of course, it is not final until the US president [Donald Trump] agrees on it. So, at the moment, we are at that stage.”
The US envoy said that as part of the agreement, at the first stage, the provinces of Kabul and Parwan – where the Bagram Airfield is located – will see a reduction in violence.
Mr. Khalilzad said the return of an Islamic emirate, the term used for the Taliban’s governance system, by force is not acceptable.
A possible return of an Islamic emirate as part of a peace deal between the US and the Taliban has been a much-debated topic which increases concerns about the loss of achievements the country has made in the last eighteen years.
Mr. Khalilzad said that president Trump will decide the level where and at what level the deal will be signed between the officials from the two sides.
“If one side’s ideas are tried to be endorsed by force on the others, the result will be a war,” Mr. Khalilzad said.
The US chief negotiator held separate talks with Afghan government leaders, President Ashraf Ghani, and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and then met them together on Monday.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Mr. Ghani “has seen” the agreement and “key details” of the document were shared with him.
“Afghan government has the details of the agreement. We will consult and comprehensively study this [document] and will try to formulate our observation based on our national interests,” Mr. Sediqqi said. “The efforts of the US and our allies will lead to a result when the Taliban enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government and when we witness a ceasefire and end of violence.”
“Mr. Khalilzad held talks with the Chief Executive in which he announced the will and determination of the people of Afghanistan for a nationwide peace,” said Omid Maisam, deputy spokesman to Mr. Abdullah.
The US envoy also held talks with former president Hamid Karzai, former vice president Mohammad Younus Qanooni, second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq, and other politicians in Kabul and discussed issues around the peace agreement.
A Look at US-Taliban Talks
Since his appointment to the post in September, Mr. Khalilzad held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha and the UAE. However, during this period, there have been conflicting reports about the US’s intention of bringing sustainable peace in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khalilzad’s efforts have been largely shrouded in secrecy. In May, he briefed the US lawmakers about his talks with the Taliban that according to reports met with some skepticisms.
On May 9, the sixth round of US-Taliban talks ended in the Qatari capital, Doha. The talks so far have been focused on four key issues: US forces withdrawal, counterterrorism assurances, a ceasefire, and intra-Afghan negotiations.
Last week, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is not seeking a permanent military presence in Afghanistan after the Taliban said they are close to finalizing a peace agreement with the United States.
The Afghan conflict has cost more than 2,300 American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars. As the war approaches its 18th year, 14,000 US troops are still in Afghanistan, and senior intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that the country remains fragile and could once again become a terrorist haven.