U.S. and Taliban Reportedly Draft Peace Deal Framework, Potentially Ending an Almost Two-decade Conflict

'We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,' an American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, told The New York Times in Kabul

FILE PHOTO: Taliban walk as they celebrate ceasefire in Ghanikhel district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan June 16, 2018.
REUTERS/Parwiz

The New York Times reported Monday morning that the United States and the Taliban have a draft agreement that moves both parties toward ending the nearly two decade conflict. The agreement outlines a commitment from the Taliban that Afghanistan not host terrorists or terror networks and that the U.S. will begin a troop withdrawal in return for a cease-fire and further talks.

“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” an American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, told The New York Times in Kabul. “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”

He added: “We felt enough confidence that we said we need to get this fleshed out, and details need to be worked out.”

A senior U.S. government official, speaking after six days of talks between a U.S. team and the Afghan Taliban, also told Reuters on Monday that Washington was committed to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan after 17 years of war.

The official, who declined to be identified, described "significant progress" in talks last week with Afghan Taliban militants in Qatar on a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.

"Of course we don't seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan," the official said in the capital Kabul.

"Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government," the official told Reuters. "We would like to leave a good legacy."

There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official added.

Both U.S. officials and the hardline Islamic group hailed progress after the talks on Saturday but the U.S. official said that no draft deal had been finalised.

As well as the sticking point of the ceasefire, the Taliban did not discuss the need for talks with the Afghan government to reach a political settlement that the U.S. believes is a core part of a deal.

The Taliban have repeatedly refused to talk to the Western-backed Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the United States.

The U.S. team, headed by special peace envoy Zalmay Khalizad, is in Kabul this week meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

After being toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban control about half of Afghanistan and are staging daily attacks amid the diplomacy.

Further talks are due to start in Qatar on Feb. 25.

As well as the withdrawal of troops, the official said progress was made on addressing U.S. concerns that Afghanistan is not used as a base by al Qaeda or Islamic State for attacks against the United States and its allies.

"That is why we came to Afghanistan in the first place," the official said.