KABUL: The Taliban hopes to finalize a peace deal with US diplomats soon in a move that could end a decades-old conflict in Afghanistan, the group’s spokesman told Arab News on Tuesday.
Taliban emissaries and US diplomats, led by Washington’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, began their ninth round of talks in Qatar recently, after US President Donald Trump assigned the Afghan-born diplomat with the task of finding a peaceful solution to the war and the eventual withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Ahead of the resumption of Tuesday’s discussions, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban based in Qatar, tweeted: “We will try to finalize the last points of agreement.”
Later on Tuesday, several Afghan media reports, citing unnamed sources, said that both the US and Taliban negotiators had agreed to establish “safe zones” once American forces start leaving Afghanistan.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been absent from all nine rounds of talks, rejected reports of the creation of “safe zones” for the insurgents.
“We are not of this opinion, that is not our understanding from the talks between the Taliban and the Americans,” Sediq Seddiqi, Ghani’s spokesman, told Arab News.
“On the contrary, our expectation is that any progress should lead to peace and cessation of war, a cease-fire that brings peace across Afghanistan and direct talks between the Taliban and the government,” he added.
US diplomats have yet to comment on the matter.
The news follows a Reuters report quoting unnamed Taliban officials, which said that Washington will stop providing aid to Afghan forces who rely on the US and the West to bankroll the war.
Commenting on the matter from Qatar, Khalilzad rejected the report in a tweet: “A Reuters report quoting two unnamed Talib commanders alleges we will cease support of the Afghan forces as part of any agreement. Not true!”
No one should be “intimidated or fooled by propaganda,” he added.
“Let me be clear: We will defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement w/ the Talibs. All sides agree Afghanistan’s future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations,” the second part of his tweet read.
The talks in Qatar have been shrouded in secrecy, even as the Taliban have publicly said that they will fight until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan and a timetable for their departure is set.
The group has also demanded an end to the presence of US intelligence networks and contractors in the country, pledging in return to not allow Afghan soil to be used against any country or US interests.
There have been contradictory comments by US officials and even Trump, with some saying that there will be a reduction of troops while warning against a hasty pullout.
Meanwhile, Trump, who until now had insisted on a complete departure of troops, has been reported saying Washington would seek to retain its intelligence officials in Afghanistan.
The US is insisting on signing the deal with the Taliban before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of the crucial presidential elections.
Ghani says his priority is the polls, and that a strong elected government can negotiate from a position of strength with the Taliban.
Some of his rival candidates have been pushing for the creation of an interim government. “The Taliban is not interested in holding talks directly with Kabul,” Shohab Hakimi, a nominee, was quoted as saying.
“The people know that the Taliban are not prepared for talks with the government and establishment of peace can only happen by the establishment of an interim government,” Murad Ali Murad, a deputy candidate, said on Tuesday.