–Afghan Taliban say will consider six-month ceasefire if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE guarantee US will establish interim govt in Kabul
–Repeat demand for complete withdrawal of international forces from war-torn country
–PM Imran hopes US-Taliban talks will ‘end three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people’
ISLAMABAD: The Afghan Taliban have agreed to consider a US request for a six-month ceasefire if Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) guarantee that Washington will establish an interim government in Afghanistan and appoint a Taliban-favoured leader as its head, according to media reports.
Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan were the only three countries to recognise the Taliban government during its five-year rule from 1996-2001.
Quoting Taliban officials, Reuters reported that on the second day of talks in Abu Dhabi arranged by Pakistan, the US delegation asked Taliban to announce a six months’ ceasefire in Afghanistan. However, the insurgent group has sought guarantee from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan regarding establishment of an interim government in Kabul of their choice.
The Taliban also said they held talks with UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistani representatives on the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and its security and reconstruction.
Taliban said at the end of the day on Monday, they met US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador, Zamay Khalilzad too.
An earlier interaction between the US and Taliban in September was also stuck over the issue of maintenance of US military bases in Afghanistan, according to Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official in Kabul who remains in regular contact with Taliban leaders.
The “US wants the Taliban to accept at least two military bases, Bagram and Shorabak. The Taliban are not willing to accept it,” Muzhda had said, adding that the insurgent leaders are unwilling to accept anything more than a nominal number of troops required to secure the US diplomatic mission.
Analysts said one of the differences of this meeting to others, is that in addition to Taliban’s representatives from Qatar’s political office, members of the leadership team of the group are also in attendance.
According to sources close to Taliban officials, members of the leadership team of Taliban including Abbas Satnekzai, head of Taliban’s Qatar office; Salam Hanifi, Deputy Minister of Education; Din Mohammad Hanif, Planning Minister; Khairullah Khairkhaw, Minister of Interior; Mohammad Fazl, Army Chief of the Taliban and Deputy Defense Minister during Taliban regime; and Mawlawi Ahmaddullah, acting chief of Taliban Council in Kabul.
Meanwhile, the US did not confirm direct meetings between Khalilzad and the Taliban in Abu Dhabi.
Late Monday, Washington said meetings were ongoing in the UAE city “to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue toward ending the conflict”, and that Khalilzad was in the region.
Khalilzad “has in the past met, and will continue to meet with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict”, it continued.
The meetings are the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts as Washington seeks a way out of the conflict, which began with the US invasion in 2001.
Khalilzad, who has expressed hopes for a deal to be in place before Afghanistan’s presidential election scheduled for April next year, has made several trips to the region since his appointment in September.
On Monday, Pakistan successfully brought the Afghan Taliban to the table in Abu Dhabi for the latest round of talks between the militant outfit and US officials.
Since the appointment of Khalilzad, the Taliban and US representatives have held meetings on three occasions.
Afghan government representatives were not present at the Abu Dhabi meeting owing to Taliban’s position on avoiding negotiations with the current government. The group has repeatedly insisted that it will only hold direct negotiations with the US. However, representatives of the Afghan government held talks with US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Sunday. Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib also participated in the talks.
Meanwhile, another Afghan peace negotiations team arrived in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The team, led by chief negotiator Abdul Salam Rahimi, “will begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation and to prepare for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides”, Afghan presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri tweeted.
The 12-person team was first announced in November by President Ashraf Ghani as part of a diplomatic effort to bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks with the government in Kabul.
The meeting in Abu Dhabi was the first one sponsored by Pakistan and the first meeting outside the Qatari capital of Doha. The meeting was organised in the UAE to highlight the role Pakistan had played and allow Saudi Arabia and UAE to participate.
Last week, the US expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s role in the talks.
PM IMRAN HOPES TALKS WILL BEAR FRUIT:
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday expressed the hope that talks between US and Afghan Taliban would be successful.
“Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the US in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people. Pakistan will be doing everything within its power to further the peace process” the premier tweeted.
Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the US in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people. Pakistan will be doing everything within its power to further the peace process.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) December 18, 2018
The international community has also been optimistic about the possibility of talks.
“The possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now,” the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, told the UN Security Council in New York on Monday.
But the Taliban have upped assaults on Afghan forces even as the US increases diplomatic efforts, with thousands of people displaced by fighting.
Civilians continue to face “extreme levels of harm”, a recent UN report said, with 8,050 people killed or wounded in the January to September period this year.