Taliban says latest talks end on US Afghanistan withdrawal

Taliban are expected to guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for extremist groups as part of the deal. (File/AFP)
Updated 12 August 2019

Taliban says latest talks end on US Afghanistan withdrawal

  • Taliban spokesman said the latest talks were “long and useful”
  • The deal will include a cease-fire

KABUL: The latest round of talks between the Taliban and the United States on a deal to withdraw thousands of US troops from Afghanistan has ended and now both sides will consult with their leadership on the next steps, a Taliban spokesman said Monday.

The eighth round of talks in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar concluded after midnight and was “long and useful,” Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

He made no statements on the outcome of the talks.

Last week, another Taliban spokesman had said a deal was expected to follow this round as both sides seek an end to the nearly 18-year war, America’s longest conflict.

An agreement — if reached — is expected to include Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan would not be a base for other extremist groups in the future. However, both the Daesh group’s affiliate and Al-Qaeda remain active in the country. The Taliban stage near-daily attacks across Afghanistan, mainly targeting Afghan forces and government officials but also killing many civilians.

The deal also could include a cease-fire and stipulate that the Taliban would negotiate with Afghan representatives, though the insurgent group has so far refused to negotiate with Kabul representatives, dismissing the Afghan government as a US puppet.

There was no immediate comment on Monday from US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who on Sunday tweeted that “I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war.”

Sunday was the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, which unfolded without any major violence reported in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later added that “Many scholars believe that the deeper meaning of Eid Al-Hadha is to sacrifice one’s ego. Leaders on all sides of the war in Afghanistan must take this to heart as we strive for peace.”

Some in Afghanistan saw it as a response to President Ashraf Ghani, who on Sunday declared that “Our future cannot be decided outside, whether in the capital cities of our friends, nemeses or neighbors. The fate of Afghanistan will be decided here in this homeland. ... We don’t want anyone to intervene in our affairs.”

While Ghani insists that the upcoming Sept. 28 presidential election is crucial for giving Afghanistan’s leader a powerful mandate to decide the country’s future after years of war, Khalilzad is seeking a peace deal by Sept. 1, weeks before the vote.

The Taliban control roughly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the US-led invasion toppled their five-year government in 2001 after the group had harbored Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. More than 2,400 US service members have died in Afghanistan since then.

The US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014. The some 20,000 American and allied troops that remain are carrying out airstrikes on the Taliban and IS militants, and are working to train and build the Afghan military.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 min 47 sec ago

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.