US committed to pulling foreign forces out of Afghanistan

Taliban officials have repeatedly refused to talk to the Afghan government, which they regard as a USA puppet, throwing into question how effective a peace deal could really be.

Afghan authorities have previously complained of being excluded from the discussions in Qatar, and warned that any deal between the U.S. and the Taliban would require Kabul's endorsement. However, they have held four rounds of talks with the U.S. since a year ago.

It is estimated about 15 million people - half the Afghan population - are living in areas either controlled by the Taliban or where the militants are openly present and regularly mount attacks.

The US invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks to topple the Taliban, who were harbouring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Monday the Taliban should "enter serious talks" with his government, after the insurgents and Washington both touted progress during unprecedented negotiations in Qatar last week.

Both the Taliban and the USA touted "progress" over the weekend, and the New York Times cited Washington's special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday as saying they have formed "a draft of a framework", though he warned details need to be fleshed out and major sticking points remain.

The palace said Khalilzad confirmed that no agreement had been made on the withdrawal of foreign troops, adding that any such decision would be coordinated and discussed in detail with the Afghan government.

There was headway on one topic, Khalilzad told the New York Times.

The peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar had previously been described on Saturday by Khalilzad as "more productive than they have been in the past", signaling the first significant shift in the geopolitical stalemate in years.

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Khalilzad said that the talks in Qatar have been "more productive than they have been in the past", referencing years of without any progress between the US and the Taliban.

The Taliban have long refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, branding them as "puppets".

But Ghani called the U.S. -Taliban talks "part of our peace" and warned that a deal without Afghan involvement could lead to the kind of "disastrous" civil strife that followed the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

Some of the more hard points yet to negotiate are the prospect of a ceasefire and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. "It is time for Ghani to choose between elections or peace process", said a western diplomat based in Kabul. No Afghan wants foreign troops to remain in their country indefinitely.

Khalilzad has met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months in the latest bid to end America's longest war. The group also rejected a ceasefire and direct talks with Ghani's administration.

Afghan political analyst Waheed Muzhda says he believes that Khalilzad and the Taliban have reached agreement on both the withdrawal of us forces from Afghanistan and a cease-fire deal, but that neither side is prepared to say so at this point.

"My role is to facilitate" such talks between the insurgents and Kabul, Khalilzad was quoted as saying.

The Taliban's power and reach have surged since foreign combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014. "Let's assume, if peace is sealed with the Taliban and the foreigners are evacuated, then what is the guarantee that the chaos of 1990s are not repeated again?", he asked.

He gave no further details, but the statement gave weight to reports last week that the Taliban had agreed to oppose Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Afghanistan.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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