By Hamed Mohammadi
The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed in principle to a framework for peace, following four days of intense negotiations between Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the U.S. Department of State and a Taliban delegation in Qatar, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing unnamed Afghan sources.
Talks had been suspended for nearly a month before resuming on November 24. If successful, the agreement will end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
“The four-day negotiations focused on a ceasefire plan and articles of a peace agreement that Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban had signed off on during the previous nine rounds of talks,” Sayed Akbar Agha, a former member of the Taliban negotiating team was quoted by Fars news agency as saying. “The negotiations resolved all issues regarding intra-Afghan talks and a permanent ceasefire. All that remains now is for both sides to sign off on the agreement.”
“Mr. Khalilzad has traveled back to the U.S. to confirm the date for signing off on those articles that all parties had already agreed to, plan direct intra-Afghan peace talks, and determine a timeframe for a permanent ceasefire,” Mr. Agha added. “I do not know the exact date, but intra-Afghan peace talks will start soon.”
The Washington Post also reported that a week before the talks in Qatar, the Taliban had freed an American and an Australian held hostage since 2016 in exchange for three top Taliban figures. The paper added that “the insurgent group said the swap could help rekindle peace negotiations.”
On the same day, Mr. Khalilzad tweeted: “We welcome the release of 10 Afghan soldiers by the Taliban. The move followed the release of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. The Taliban also released two academics as a goodwill gesture.”
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that a Taliban delegation had traveled to Iran for talks on November 27. Mr. Zarif said that Iran would meet with all Afghan groups to establish peace in that country.
“Tehran is ready to do its part in facilitating peace talks between Kabul and various Afghan political groups,” Zarif was quoted by the Islamic Republic News agency (IRNA) as saying. “Iran would like to develop economic and cultural ties with Afghanistan, based on mutual interests.”
Zabiullah Mujahid, the Spokesmen for the Taliban, also confirmed in a tweet that Mullah Abdul Ghani Beradar, the deputy chief of the diplomatic wing of the Taliban, had traveled to Tehran to hold talks with Mr. Zarif.
“The trip is aimed at straightening ties between Iran and Afghanistan,” Mr. Mujahid said. “The two countries will also discuss the plight of Afghan refugees living in Iran.”
This is not the first time that a Taliban delegation has visited Iran.
A group of senior Taliban officials traveled to Tehran in the winter of 2018 and held talks with Rear Admiral Upper Half Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. After the meeting, Mr. Shamkhani said that the Taliban would accept a ceasefire to increase the chance of peace in the country.
Iran is playing a pivotal role in the Afghan peace process. While Tehran does not explicitly support the Taliban’s return to power, it maintains a strong political relationship with the group to hedge its bet in case the Taliban were to gain a role in a future Afghan government. Tehran has also developed close ties with the Afghan government enabling it to extend its influence in the region.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]