The Afghan government and Taliban representatives said on Wednesday that they had reached a preliminary agreement to continue peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war and were welcomed by the United States as a chance to stop the violence.
The agreement describes the way forward for discussion but is considered a breakthrough as it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire, although the Taliban’s attacks on Afghan government forces have continued unabated.
“The procedure, including its opening of negotiations, has been completed and from now on, negotiations will begin on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed the agreement on Twitter. “A joint working committee was tasked with preparing the draft topics for the agenda (for peace negotiations),” said a joint statement from both sides.
The agreement comes after months of talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, encouraged by the United States, despite the ongoing violence.
1/4 I welcome the news from #Doha that the two Afghan sides have reached a significant milestone: a three-side agreement codifying rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire.
– US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@ US4AfghanPeace) December 2, 2020
A car bombing in central Ghazni province killed at least 30 security forces on Sunday, officials said. No group took responsibility.
A ceasefire is still the most urgent demand from international capitals and Kabul, although the Taliban refused one during the initial stages of talks.
“(The agreement) is a step forward in starting negotiations on key issues, including a comprehensive ceasefire as the main demand of the Afghan people,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter, quoting the Afghan leader.
US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Twitter that the two sides had agreed on a “three-party agreement codifying the rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire.”
The three-page document has not yet been published. “This agreement shows that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues,” Khalilzad said.
The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by US-led forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. A US-backed government has been in power in Afghanistan ever since, even though the Taliban control large parts of the country.
Trump wants out
According to a February agreement, foreign forces must leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for terrorist guarantees from the Taliban.
US President Donald Trump has seen accelerating the withdrawal despite criticism, saying he wanted to see all US troops at home for Christmas to end America’s longest war.
The Trump administration has since announced that there would be a sharp cut in January, but at least 2,500 troops would remain longer than then.
On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned NATO against withdrawing troops prematurely, saying it should “ensure that we commit further reductions in troops in Afghanistan to cope”.
“The biggest obstacle that remains is the current level of unacceptable violence: this must be stopped,” Britain’s mission in Kabul said on Twitter after the agreement.
UN envoy to Afghanistan Deborah Lyons welcomed the “positive development” on Twitter, adding that “this breakthrough should be a springboard to achieving the peace that all Afghans want”.
The agreement was suspended last month after the uprising struck the document because it mentioned the Afghan government by name.
An EU diplomat familiar with the process said both sides had kept some disputed issues aside to deal with separately.
“Both sides also know that the Western powers are losing patience and help has been conditional … so both sides know they must move forward to show some progress,” the diplomat said, demanding anonymity.
Last week, about $ 12 billion was pledged in aid of international capitals and institutions over four years for Afghanistan, but linked to annual reviews of progress in key areas such as the peace talks.