Afghan government, Taliban reach breakthrough deal as calls grow for a ceasefire
KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban representatives reached a preliminary deal to press on with peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war and welcomed by the United States as a chance to halt the violence.
The agreement lays out the way forward for discussion but is considered a breakthrough because it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire, even as Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces have continued unabated.
“The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalised and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters.
The Taliban spokesman confirmed the agreement on Twitter.
“A joint working committee was tasked to prepare the draft topics for the agenda (of peace talks),” a joint statement from both sides said.
The agreement comes after months of talks in Doha, the capital of Qatar, encouraged by the United States, despite the ongoing violence.
A ceasefire remains the most urgent demand of international capitals and Kabul, even after the Taliban refused one during the preliminary stages of talks.
“(The agreement) is a step forward towards beginning the negotiations on the main issues, including a comprehensive ceasefire as the key demand of the Afghan people,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said on Twitter, quoting the Afghan leader.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated the two sides on “perseverance and willingness to find common ground”, and added that the United States would “work hard with all sides in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence and ceasefire”.
U.S. Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter that the two sides had agreed on a “three-page agreement codifing rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire”.
“This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues,” Khalilzad said.
Key players including Qatar, who is hosting the talks, and neighbouring Pakistan, whose government and military have helped put pressure on the Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table, also welcomed the agreement which Doha called a “milestone”.
The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. A U.S.-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban have control over wide areas of the country.