The ongoing seventh round of negotiations between Taliban representatives and US officials in Qatar has made “spectacular progress” on a draft agreement aimed at ending the 18-year-long conflict in Afghanistan, a spokesperson for the armed group has said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman in Doha, said that “80-90 percent work on the peace agreement is finished”.
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“Spectacular progress made in this round. The meeting will continue today as well,” he added, without giving further details.
The talks in Doha, which began on June 29, are aimed at finalising a draft agreement on the potential withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The United States has said it will not agree to the withdrawal of troops until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, implement a ceasefire across the country and commit to an “intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government.
But the Taliban insists that the precondition of any agreement is the timeline for the withdrawal of the troops.
The group also refuses to talk to the Afghan government, calling them a “puppet” of the West.
There are about 17,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including a contingent of some 14,000 US soldiers, as part of a Washington-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.
Some US forces also carry out “counterterrorism” operations.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, US President Donald Trump said that Afghanistan was a “lab for terrorists” and that even if the US did pull out its troops, it would leave a “very strong intelligence” presence in the country.
On Saturday, as talks were ongoing in Doha, Taliban fighters killed at least 19 people in an attack on a government office in Maruf district of southern Kandahar province.
In a devastating attack on Monday, the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in a Kabul area housing military and government buildings, as well as schools and shops, killing at least 16 people and wounding 105, including 51 children.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy heading the negotiations in Doha, condemned the attack in a Twitter post.
“The photos of innocent Afghan children, scared & hurt, drive home a sense of profound urgency to resolve remaining issues here in Doha. Afghan people deserve an end to the violence,” he said.
Fresh bid for peace
Soon after Monday’s attack in Kabul, Germany and Qatar announced that an all-Afghan peace summit would be held in Doha on July 7-8 without the official participation of the Afghan government.
Germany, a key backer of the Kabul government, and Qatar, which hosts the US-Taliban talks, said invitations had been sent to all relevant parties.
The Afghans “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing”, Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement on Monday.
“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” he added.
“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an unannounced visit last week to Kabul that he was hoping for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1”.
Afghanistan will hold a presidential election on September 28, which has been postponed twice.
It was originally scheduled for April but was delayed to July 20 due to security concerns as Taliban, which controls or contests half the country since being overthrown by the US invasion in 2001, does not support the election process.