The United States and the Taliban have both agreed to establish two “technical teams” to determine mechanisms for the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan and for preventing terrorists from using Afghan soil against America and its allies.
Chief Taliban negotiator, Mullah Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, has revealed the details after nearly a week of marathon discussions which concluded on Saturday in Qatar with U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad.
“The two technical teams will prepare proposals and take decisions and bring them to the table in the next meeting in Doha set for February 25,” Stanikzai told a pro-Taliban media outlet. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid released the video of the interview Wednesday
He added that a larger meeting would then be arranged, with major powers, the United Nations and representatives of Islamic countries in attendance as “guarantors” where assurances will be given that all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan. The Taliban will give their own undertaking at the meeting that no-one will be allowed to use Afghan soil for international terrorism.
The U.S. side will also announce a timeline for the troop withdrawal because “ these troops cannot leave at once, in a day or in a week. It will require time,” Stanikzai acknowledged, adding these details will also be worked out by the technical teams.
There was no immediate reaction from the Afghan government or U.S. officials to the assertions made by the Taliban chief negotiator.
Negotiations on both sides
On Monday, Khalilzad discussed some details of his talks with the Taliban, saying that both sides have agreed “in principle” to a framework that would bind the insurgents to prevent transnational terrorist outfits, including al-Qaida and Islamic State, from using Afghan soil for attacks against America and its allies , as well as neighbors of Afghanistan.
In exchange the U.S. will withdraw its troops from the country but would require the Taliban to observe a cease-fire and open dialogue with the Afghan government, the U.S. chief negotiator noted.
Some have criticized Washington for reaching the framework deal in haste. Former U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Ryan Crocker slammed the deal with the Taliban as a “surrender.”
“This current process bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris peace talks during the Vietnam War. Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering; we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender. The Taliban will offer any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and the Taliban is back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them,” Crocker wrote in an oped in The Washington Post.
In his interview Wednesday, Stanikzai said Americans have assured the Taliban they do not want their soldiers to stay in Afghanistan nor do they intend to maintain permanent bases in the country.
“Islamic Emirate [Taliban] has categorically told them [Americans] all foreign soldiers whether they are here for combat or training purposes will have to exit because our jihad [holy war] will continue till the last foreign soldier is present in Afghanistan,” Stanikzai asserted.
Opposition to a cease-fire
The senior insurgent official said that during the talks in Doha, Taliban negotiators rejected American demands for the Taliban to observe a complete cease-fire during withdrawal of foreign troops and engage in direct talks with the Afghan government.
“It is impossible for us to engage in direct talks with the Kabul administration until all U.S. and NATO troops pull out from Afghanistan. We told them [U.S.] that the Kabul government is not legitimate and is the product of American military pressure. It is not an elected government so it cannot represent Afghans and engaging with them would be a waste of time,” Stanikzai insisted.
Afghanistan currently has no governance system, no state institution, no police, no army, he asserted and added whatever is there is under the American influence. “We will build the institutions on the basis of Islamic laws and the fundamental constitution will be developed according to Islamic Sharia,” Stanikzai said when asked.whether the existing governing setup in the country would be acceptable for the Taliban.
He insisted the Taliban does not seek a monopoly on power in a future government seize power but it wants an inclusive administration in which all Afghans have a share in it.
“We will, inshallah [God willing], establish a government in Afghanistan which will be acceptable to the international community and will maintain good ties with neighboring countries. We have also told Americans we [the Taliban] don’t want the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan the way Russians left. We have told them that after ending your military intervention, we will welcome U.S. engineers, doctors and others if they want to come back for reconstruction of Afghanistan. And they have promised to do so, saying the U.S. wants to maintain friendly ties with Afghanistan and would participate in reconstruction efforts.”
Stanikzai acknowledged that the two sides made progress on the two key issues of troop withdrawal and preventing use of Afghan soil against anyone and sounded upbeat about further progress when the two negotiating teams meet again next month. He admitted though, the cease-fire and talks with a Kabul government envoy remain the sticking points.
“The [Afghan] army that they call it is raiding homes of their own countrymen and killing them at the behest of the enemy. These forces will simply vanish when their financial sources dry up with the departure of Americans, and the fate of the [Afghan] government wouldn’t be different,” he said. Afghanistan does not need to spend billions of dollars to maintain such a big army once peace is restored to the country, Stanikzai went on to assert.