After nearly a week of talks between the U.S. and representatives of the Taliban, both parties are closer than ever to ending the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.
Both sides are close to an agreement over a framework peace deal that includes a pledge from the Taliban to ensure the country cannot be used by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State to set up operations. Also, the agreement calls for withdrawing all foreign troops, a ceasefire, and Taliban negotiations with the proper Afghan government.
U.S. special representative on Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the marathon discussions, said that no agreement on a ceasefire or troop withdrawal had yet been reached. However, in an interview with The New York Times Monday, he said that an agreement in principle had been reached to the peace deal framework which includes a promise by the Taliban to keep al Qaeda and ISIS out of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani acknowledged in a televised speech to his country Monday that while his people don’t want foreign troops in the country over the long term, “their current presence is needed.”
“We will work based on an organized plan to reduce the number to zero,” the president said just a day after getting briefed by Khalilzad on the progress of the talks, adding that the Taliban had only two choices — to stand and work with the people of Afghanistan or serve “as a tool to implement the interests” of other nations.
“We have a strong will that we’ll bring about peace to end Afghanistan’s 40 years of war and to develop and rebuild the nation,” Ghani said. “We shouldn’t forget that the victims of the war are Afghans and thus the peace initiative must be owned by Afghans.”
Taliban representatives said Saturday that progress on a final deal was “impossible” before an agreement to withdraw all foreign troops from the country was reached. In addition, the militant group rejected a ceasefire as well as direct talks with the Ghani administration.
“If any decision is taken regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops, it would be made following a detailed discussion in coordination with the Afghan government,” Khalilzad said in a statement released from the Afghan president’s office.