Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, is leading the U.S. team of negotiators in the ongoing seventh round of talks in the nearly year-long dialogue between the two adversaries in the 18 years of war.
The discussions with American interlocutors to hammer out the deal continued “uninterrupted” for almost 12 hours on the opening day on Saturday, said Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s negotiating team. U.S and Taliban negotiators are still working on the draft agreement, he told VOA on Sunday.
“Both sides are trying to make this round conclusively productive, and hopefully there would be an outcome,” Shaheen said. He added that the discussions are expected to continue into the next several days.
“I think, so far it is going well,” Shaheen noted.
The U.S.-Taliban talks have primarily focused on guarantees the Taliban will not allow insurgent-controlled Afghan territory to be used for international terrorism, and in return U.S.-led NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan.
“We have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during last week’s visit to Kabul.
Pompeo noted discussions regarding foreign military presence in Afghanistan have also taken place with the insurgent group. “And while we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” he stressed.
All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open door to inter-Afghan peace negotiations, said Pompeo.
U.S. chief negotiator Khalilzad has made it clear repeatedly that his team is seeking a comprehensive deal with the Taliban that would also bind the insurgents to permanently cease hostilities and engage in a formal dialogue with fellow Afghans for sustainable peace in the country.
The Taliban maintains it will discuss ceasefire and participate in Afghan to Afghan peace talks only after securing a troop withdrawal agreement with Washington.
No let up in Afghan violence
The peace talks in Qatar come as the Taliban has intensified battlefield attacks in Afghanistan, killing scores of government security forces over the past two days.
Fierce clashes were ongoing in southern Kandahar province after insurgents assaulted the border district of Marouf late on Saturday. Provincial police chief Tadeen Khan told VOA the attack “killed and injured a number of security personnel."
Afghanistan Kandahar Province Map
The offensive also killed eight contract employees of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, officials said.
For its part, the insurgent group claimed that its fighters killed nearly 60 Afghan security forces and captured eleven others in the attack on the district.
The raid started with a Taliban suicide bomber exploding his explosives-packed U.S.-made Humvee military vehicle, the Taliban said in a statement. It claimed that insurgent fighters overran the district headquarters, though police chief Khan rejected the claim. Independent verification of claims made by either side could not be ascertained.
The insurgents also attacked military posts in northern Kunduz province on the border with Tajikistan, reportedly killing more than a dozen security forces.