Pullout and guarantees dominate talks with US: Taliban spokesman

Two of the primary issues on the table in the Doha talks to find a solution to the conflict, Suhail Shaheen says.

    Two main issues being discussed in the high-level talks between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar are US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and assurances that the country not be used for further attacks in the future, a Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera.

    At the site of the second day of the talks in Doha, Al Jazeera's Stefanie Dekker asked Suhail Shaheen what guarantees the Taliban could offer to end their military operations once an agreement is reached.

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    "When the occupation has ended, there is full withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and there is an Afghan-inclusive Islamic government in the country, I think there is no need for military operation and war," Shaheen told Al Jazeera.

    "So, there will be sustainable peace in the country, and all the military people and our people, they will be included in a national army," he added.

    One of the founders of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is attending the talks for the first time as the new head of the Taliban team. He is the highest-level representative to take part in negotiations with a US delegation led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for peace. 

    Khalilzad said "This could be a significant moment." in a tweet before talks began on Monday. 

    This meeting is the latest in a series of talks between Khalilzad and Taliban representatives and interested parties in a number of countries in the region since the US envoy was named in September.

    In six days of meetings in Doha last month, Khalilzad said "significant progress" was made on two vital issues, a potential troop withdrawal, as well the guarantees the Taliban will provide not to allow fighter groups to flourish in the country.

    The Taliban have repeatedly refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, calling it a "puppet" of the US.

    Taliban cofounder leads talks

    Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman [Al Jazeera]

    Baradar, the former number two of the Taliban, is seen as an influential player in the group. He helped Mullah Omar, who died in 2013, to form the movement in Afghanistan in 1994.

    He fled to Pakistan after the Taliban was toppled by the US-led invasion in 2001. He was arrested during a Pakistani security operation in 2010. He was freed last October and was recently named as the head of the Taliban's political office in Doha, set up in 2013.

    Baradar arrived in Doha from Pakistan on Sunday. 

    Some 14,000 US troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.

    In recent months, the administration of US President Donald Trump has decided to engage with the Taliban, which has been waging a deadly armed rebellion since the group was removed from power.

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    The move towards peace has picked up after the Taliban staged near-daily attacks in the country taking a heavy toll on civilians as well as Afghan security forces. The armed group is in control of nearly half the country.

    Heavy fighting continues in Afghanistan with US air raids targeting the Taliban and other groups, and Taliban offensives. 

    Last year was the deadliest for civilans in Afghanistan according to the United Nations with 3,804 civilian deaths in 2018. 

    The UN says at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the past decade, when the organisation began compiling the data.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera