The head of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah confirmed Saturday that the Afghan government and the Taliban movement are “very close” to breaking the deadlock in the peace talks, stressing at the same time that the military presence of the US forces is still necessary.
Talks between the two parties began in the Qatari capital, Doha, on September 12, but disagreements quickly prevailed over the agenda and the basic framework for discussions and interpretations on religious matters.
Meanwhile, violence erupted in Afghanistan on Saturday with a series of rocket attacks in Kabul, killing at least 8 people. The Taliban denied responsibility, while ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“We have not moved towards discussing the main essence of the negotiations, the main agenda,” Abdullah said in an interview with Agence France-Presse during a visit to Turkey.
But he added in an optimistic tone, “We are close, very close. We hope that we will pass this stage and reach the core issues,” including security.
Abdullah’s comments came the day after a prominent Taliban leader residing in Pakistan told AFP that “sufficient progress” had been made on the main points of contention.
Abdullah held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday in Istanbul, as Afghanistan is seeking Turkish support for the negotiations.
Turkish forces participated in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, while Ankara was also a transit country for Afghans fleeing violence and seeking refuge in Europe.
Abdullah also said that US forces should withdraw from Afghanistan “when conditions are met.”
US President Donald Trump’s administration said this month that it would withdraw 2,000 of its 4,500 troops from Afghanistan by January.
“Of course we would have preferred the situation to be different,” Abdullah said, warning that the move would have “some effect.” “My message to the next administration will be: Look at the circumstances, because these forces are there for a reason. They are there to help fight terrorism, and they also support Afghan institutions,” he added.
Peace talks began in the Qatari capital after the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February in which the United States agreed to withdraw its forces by mid-2021.
The Taliban, in return, confirmed that they would not attack US forces and agreed to hold talks.
And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators after his arrival in Doha on Saturday.
Abdullah said the Afghans still wanted a ceasefire, but indicated that the government was flexible on what that might mean on the ground.
“If a comprehensive ceasefire is not possible, then moving towards a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons or a significant reduction in violence so that people see and feel that there is a change” may be among the options, he said.
He added, “We advised our delegation to be flexible,” but warned that the increased violence “harms people’s confidence in the process, as the government will not be immune to this influence.”
The Afghan government this week reported that the Taliban had killed more than 1,200 civilians in 53 suicide attacks and 1,250 bombings in the past six months.