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Taliban, US, Pakistan hail progress in peace talks

PESHAWAR: Afghan Taliban acknowledged that progress had been made in talks held last week in Qatar but denied reaching any agreement with their American interlocutors on a ceasefire and talks with the Afghan government.

In a brief statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the meeting between their political office in Doha and special US representative Zalmay Khalilzad held for six consecutive days had finally come to an end.

 

“In accordance with the agenda, this round of negotiations revolving around the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and other vital issues saw progress,” he said.

“But since issues are of critical nature and need comprehensive discussions, therefore it was decided that talks about unresolved matters will resume in similar future meetings in order to find an appropriate and effective solution and also to share details of the meetings and receive guidance from their respective leaderships,” the statement read.

It made it clear that until the issue of withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan was agreed upon, progress on “other issues is impossible”.

The statement ran counter to media reports about a “rather definitive” agreement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Mujahid denied his group had reached any agreement on a ceasefire with Khalilzad. “Reports by some media outlets about agreement on a ceasefire and talks with the Kabul administration are not true,” his statement added.

While Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi highlighted Pakistan’s role in facilitating the dialogue between Taliban and the United States and hailed the progress made in the talks, Mujahid’s statement thanked Qatar for “their facilitation role”.

Qureshi said “the world has accepted Pakistan’s stance on the peace process”. But peace in the region was not possible without dialogue, he said.

“Pakistan has pursued a regional outlook by reaching out to different countries and advocating its resolve for a stable and peaceful region,” Qureshi said.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called it an “encouraging news”.

Like his envoy, Pompeo used Twitter to hail the peace process. “Encouraging news from [Ambassador Khalilzad]. He reports significant progress in talks with the Taliban on Afghanistan reconciliation,” he tweeted.

Pompeo underlined the US desire to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan in his brief message. But equally important for the US was the need to ensure that Afghanistan did not again become a hub of terrorism after the pullout, he added.

“The US is serious about pursuing peace, preventing Afghanistan from continuing to be a space for international terrorism & bringing forces home,” he wrote.

He also emphasised the US commitment to continue working with the Afghan government. “Working with the Afghan govt & all interested parties, the US seeks to strengthen Afghan sovereignty, independence & prosperity,” he added.

Ambassador Khalilzad was in Kabul to try to secure cooperation from Afghan president after negotiations with Taliban leaders in Qatar, Reuters reported.

With the special US representative and his boss Secretary Pompeo, as well as Pakistan and the Taliban, hailing progress in the talks, he must now win over President Ashraf Ghani — whose government the Taliban have so far kept out of the process.