Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal-Taliban officials

Taliban representatives during the peace talks on Afghanistan held in Moscow on November 9, 2018. (TASS)
Updated 26 January 2019
0

Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal-Taliban officials

  • Taliban negotiators and US officials meeting in Qatar finalized clauses in a draft agreement to end the 17-year-old Afghan war
  • US special peace envoy is heading to Kabul to brief President Ashraf Ghani on the progress after the end of the longer-than expected six-day discussions

KABUL/PESHAWAR: Taliban officials said US negotiators on Saturday agreed a draft peace deal stipulating the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within 18 months of the agreement being signed.
The details were given to Reuters by Taliban sources at the end of six days of talks with US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at ending the United States’ longest war.
While neither side released an official statement, Khalilzad tweeted later that the talks had made “significant progress” and would resume shortly, adding that he planned to travel to Afghanistan to meet government officials.
“Meetings here (in Qatar) were more productive than they have been in the past. We have made significant progress on vital issues,” he wrote, adding that numerous issues still needed work.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and everything must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive cease-fire,” he said in the tweets.




A US State Department spokesperson declined further comment.
It was not clear if the draft described by the Taliban sources is acceptable to both sides or when it will be completed and signed.
According to the sources, the hard-line extremeist group gave assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants to attack the United States and its allies — a key early demand of Washington.
They said the deal included a cease-fire provision but they had yet to confirm a timeline and would only open talks with Afghan representatives once a truce was implemented.
Up until now, the Taliban has repeatedly rejected the Afghan government’s offer of holding talks, preferring instead to talk directly to the US side, which it regards as its main enemy.
“In 18 months, if the foreign forces are withdrawn and cease-fire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.
More talks on the draft are expected in February, again in the Qatari capital Doha, the Taliban sources said.
They expect their side to be led by new political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s co-founder and a former military commander who was released from prison in Pakistan last year.
While they said his appointment had boosted momentum for a deal, it was unclear if he joined the talks.
Taliban officials believe the US was keen to get Baradar — who was captured in a joint Pakistani-US intelligence raid in 2010 — to the table so they could be sure of speaking to the movement’s most powerful figures.
NEAR-DAILY ATTACKS
Other clauses in the draft include an agreement over the exchange and release of prisoners, the removal of an international travel ban on several Taliban leaders by Washington and the prospect of an interim Afghan government after the cease-fire is struck, the Taliban sources said.
The suggestion to appoint an interim government in Afghanistan comes at a time when top politicians including Ghani have filed their nominations for the presidential polls in July this year. Ghani has repeatedly rejected the offer to agree to the formation of an interim government.
News of progress on a deal comes as the Taliban continues to stage near-daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces.
Despite the presence of US-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts 17 years after the US-led an invasion to drive them from power, the Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan.
Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, as well as a US counter-terrorism mission directed at groups such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
Despite reports in December last year that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of its forces, a White House spokesman said that US President Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw the troops. However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.
The Taliban sources also confirmed provisions in the draft that have broader implications for Afghanistan’s ties with its neighbors, particularly Pakistan, India and China.
They said the deal included provisions that Baloch separatist militants will not be allowed to use Afghan soil to target Pakistan.
Balochistan, a resource-rich yet often-neglected province in south west Pakistan, has been the source of separatist insurgencies for more than 60 years.


Sixteen states sue Trump over border wall emergency

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, accompanied by Gov. Gavin Newsom, said California will probably sue President Donald Trump over his emergency declaration to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP)
Updated 59 min 29 sec ago
0

Sixteen states sue Trump over border wall emergency

  • The complaint added that the Department of Homeland Security had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate the environmental impact of the wall in California and New Mexico

SAN FRANCISCO: Sixteen US states sued President Donald Trump’s administration Monday over his decision to declare a national emergency to fund a wall on the southern border with Mexico, saying the move violated the constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in California, said the president’s order was contrary to the Presentment Clause that outlines legislative procedures and the Appropriations Clause, which defines Congress as the final arbiter of public funds.
The move had been previously announced by Xavier Becerra the attorney general of California who said his state and others had legal standing because they risked losing moneys intended for military projects, disaster assistance and other purposes.
Several Republican senators have decried the emergency declaration, saying it establishes a dangerous precedent and amounts to executive overreach.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia are party to the complaint seeking an injunction.
“Use of those additional federal funds for the construction of a border wall is contrary to Congress’s intent in violation of the US Constitution, including the Presentment Clause and Appropriations Clause,” the complaint said.
It added that Trump had “veered the country toward a constitutional crisis of his own making.”
“Congress has repeatedly rebuffed the president’s insistence to fund a border wall, recently resulting in a record 35-day partial government shutdown over the border wall dispute,” the document read.
“After the government reopened, Congress approved, and the president signed into law, a $1.375 billion appropriation for fencing along the southern border, but Congress made clear that funding could not be used to build President Trump’s proposed border wall.”
The complaint added that the Department of Homeland Security had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate the environmental impact of the wall in California and New Mexico.
Friday’s declaration enables the president to divert funds from the Pentagon’s military construction budget and other sources.