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Ghani reassures Afghans as US envoy reports progress on Taliban talks

Handout, Afghan presidential palace (AFP) | Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) talks with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (L) during a cabinet meeting in Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday reassured his people their rights would not be compromised after the US envoy to Afghanistan reported significant progress in Taliban peace talks.

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"Our commitment is to provide peace and to prevent any possible disaster," said Ghani in an address to the nation Monday. "There are values that are not disputable, such as national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Ghani’s comments came as US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington and the Taliban had drafted the framework of a deal which could pave the way for peace talks with Kabul. “The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals,” Khalilzad told The New York Times.

Following six days of talks between US and Taliban delegations in Doha, Qatar, the framework agreement involves the insurgent group agreeing to prevent Afghan territory from being used by terrorists such as the Islamic State (IS) group. This in turn could pave the way for a full pullout of US troops.

However two key sticking points were not resolved during the talks, which did not include representatives of Afghanistan’s legally elected government. These include direct talks with the Afghan government and the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire.

Khalilzad has been leading a months-long diplomatic push to convince the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government, but the militants have steadfastly refused, dismissing authorities in Kabul as "puppets".

On Monday, Ghani assured Afghans that no deals would be made without Kabul's awareness and participation in negotiations.

"I call on the Taliban to... show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans' demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government," said Ghani.

Fears of a hasty US pullout

The Afghan government has periodically complained about being excluded from the peace talks. The latest push for peace talks come as US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his eagerness to end America’s longest war.

Afghan officials however fear a hasty US pullout could risk a re-run of the brutal civil war that gripped the country following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops.

“No Afghan wants foreign troops to remain in their country indefinitely. No Afghan wants to face suicide attacks in hospitals, schools, the mosques, and parks," said Ghani. "We want peace, we want it fast but we want it with a plan," he continued.

Elusive peace

Ghani has called for talks before, and outlined a peace plan last year which included a ceasefire and bringing the insurgents into mainstream politics.

They did not reply, although in June the Taliban did agree to a three-day ceasefire -- the first of the entire conflict, prompting an outpouring of joyful celebrations as Taliban fighters posed for selfies with civilians.

But following the success of the brief June 2018 ceasefire, the Taliban have resisted calls for another temporary truce deal.

Khalilzad -- who has been leading the negotiations -- arrived in Afghanistan late Sunday to update officials including Ghani on the progress made.

He reassured the Afghans the talks in Qatar remain geared towards bringing the insurgents to the table with Kabul, according to a statement released by Ghani's office.

"My role is to facilitate," Khalilzad was quoted as saying in the statement.

Afghan security forces bear the brunt of war

The Afghan presidential palace said Khalilzad also confirmed that no agreement had been made on a withdrawal, adding that any such decision would be coordinated with Kabul.

The Taliban have insisted foreign troops must pull out. NATO's combat troops left Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but thousands remain in training, support and counter-terrorism roles.

The US has the largest contingent, roughly 14,000 troops. Trump has already said he wants to pull half of them out, according to US officials.

On Saturday Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that until a withdrawal timetable is decided progress on other issues is "impossible".

The Taliban and US officials have agreed to continue negotiations, though no date has been publicly announced.

Afghans have expressed tentative hopes about the talks tempered by fears of an American exit.

Afghan security forces are already taking staggering losses, with 45,000 killed since late 2014, and morale is low. There are fears that a US withdrawal without a deal in place could see the military fracture along ethnic lines, plunging the country further into civil war.

The government, meanwhile, is also facing a presidential election scheduled for July -- the middle of the Taliban's traditional fighting season, with fears the poll could unleash a wave of deadly violence as militants seek to disrupt the vote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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