By: Babagana Bukar Wakil Ngala, Maiduguri
The Taliban on Saturday said the gap is narrowing in talks with Washington’s special peace envoy over a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The two sides are continuing to meet in Qatar, where the insurgent movement maintains a political office.
In a voice message to the Associated Press, the Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said both sides have offered new proposals for drawing down U.S. and NATO forces. This would be a significant initial step toward a deal to end nearly 18 years of war and America’s longest military engagement.
Other Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations had earlier told AP that the U.S. was seeking a year and a half to withdraw its estimated 14,000 troops from Afghanistan, while the Taliban wanted it done in six months. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Talks between the U.S. and Taliban, which began last year with the appointment of Washington’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, have focused on a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal as well as Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used as a staging arena for global terrorist attacks.
The U.S. also wants guarantees that the Taliban won’t harbor terrorists and that the insurgent group will help in the fight against an Islamic State affiliate that has taken root mostly in eastern Afghanistan.
Still the Taliban refuse to stop fighting until U.S. and NATO troops withdraw. The Taliban continue to attack Afghanistan’s beleaguered military, causing staggering casualties.
An intra-Afghan dialogue that was to be held in Doha last month collapsed after both sides failed to agree on participants. Earlier this week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council of about 3,200 Afghans that included tribal elders, activists, prominent Afghans and others.
The council was to draft a position for talks with the Taliban, but several prominent politicians were no-shows, including his partner in the Unity Government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, exposing the deepening rifts in the government.