Afghanistan ceasefire push in focus in US, Taleban talks

The three-day meeting in Abu Dhabi is at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (above) has met Taleban representatives as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.
The three-day meeting in Abu Dhabi is at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (above) has met Taleban representatives as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) - Talks between US and Taleban officials aimed at arranging peace negotiations in Afghanistan were set for a second day on Tuesday (Dec 18) after discussions around the future of foreign forces and a possible six-month ceasefire, Taleban sources said.

The three-day meeting in Abu Dhabi is at least the third time that US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met Taleban representatives as diplomatic efforts to end the 17-year war have intensified this year.

On Monday, a Taleban delegation met officials from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates ahead of their meeting with Khalilzad, who was appointed to oversee Washington's peace effort in September.

Taleban officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US delegation was pressing for a six-month ceasefire as well as an agreement to name Taleban representatives to a future caretaker government.

The officials said the Taleban, fighting to drive foreign forces from Afghanistan and bring in their version of strict Islamic law, were resisting a ceasefire as they felt it would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces.

"If these three countries - Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan - become guarantors and the US appoints the head of a caretaker government in Afghanistan that we nominate, then we can think about a ceasefire," one senior Taleban official said.

There was no immediate comment from the US embassy in Kabul.

 
 

The latest round of diplomacy comes about a year after the United States sent thousands of extra troops to Afghanistan and stepped up air strikes to record levels, with the aim of pushing the Taleban to accept talks.

However, despite US insistence that any peace settlement must be agreed between Afghans, the Taleban have refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.

"Talks revolved around withdrawal of occupation forces from Afghanistan, ending the oppression being carried out by the United States and her allies and views were exchanged with the said countries about peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan," Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

An Afghan government team travelled to Abu Dhabi "to begin proximity dialogue with the Taleban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides", government spokesman Haroon Chakansuri said in a statement.

But there was no sign from the Taleban that they were ready to accept talks with the government. On Monday, Mujahid dismissed reports of a meeting as "propaganda".

The United States says the aim of the talks is to facilitate an Afghan-led process and the inclusion of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan in the talks reflects a US desire to bring in countries with an interest in Afghanistan.

Previous meetings were held in Qatar, where the Taleban maintains a political office, but a push to include Saudi Arabia, which is hostile to the gas-rich Gulf state, prompted a change of venue to Abu Dhabi.