US-Taleban talks go on, with focus on ceasefire in Afghanistan

KABUL • Talks between the US and Taleban to arrange peace negotiations in Afghanistan were set for a second day yesterday 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 Mr Khalilzad, who was appointed to oversee Washington's peace effort in September.

Taleban officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US team 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 its version of strict Islamic law, was resisting a ceasefire as it felt it would damage its 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 US 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 has refused to talk directly with officials from the Kabul government, which it considers 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 has 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 it was ready to accept talks with the government. On Monday, Mr Mujahid dismissed reports of a meeting as "propaganda".

The US says the aim of the talks is to facilitate an Afghan-led process, and that 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 had been 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.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2018, with the headline 'US-Taleban talks go on, with focus on ceasefire in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe