'Significant progress' made in US-Taliban talks in Qatar

Taliban appoints Mullah Baradar as head of Qatar office amid peace talks with US

He said he was on his way to Kabul to consult Afghan government officials.

Khalilzad has been in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, since Monday.

Khalilzad - who headed to Qatar after talks in Afghanistan and its key neighbours - said he was returning to Kabul to discuss the negotiations.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the new head of Taliban's Qatar office and the third deputy head of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the group, will join his fellow Taliban members as part of the current talks team, sources from inside the Taliban said.

Diplomatic efforts to end the US's longest-running conflict intensified previous year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban, which has been running an armed rebellion since it was dislodged from power in 2001.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been considering cutting in half the 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Ghani warned that any truce the US eventually signs with the Taliban must pave the way for direct talks between his government and the insurgents to decide all issues, including foreign troop withdrawal.

Concurrently, the US Central Command Chief General Joseph Votel met Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, with the talks confirming that the Afghan peace process was "high on the agenda".

News of progress in the Qatar talks, and the appointment of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, appeared to offer for the first time in almost two decades a glimmer of real hope for a path to peace in Afghanistan.

"Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past".

Neither side has released details of the negotiations so far but the Taliban have repeatedly called for the withdrawal of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation force in Afghanistan.

He said "Working with the Afghan government and all interested parties, the US seeks to strengthen Afghan sovereignty, independence & prosperity". However, both the withdrawal and the cease-fire will be "limited and conditional", according to VOA.

"It will never be stable if Taliban and the government keep fighting each other and killing Afghans", resident Sharbatullah told AFP.

"There has been a progress", he said when asked about the trust level between Pakistan and the US. U.S. officials agreed to withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan in 18 months.

As per their plan, Zalmay Khalilzad will first go to Kabul to take the Afghan government into confidence about these developments and would then fly back to Washington to seek approval of United States authorities.

Among them were Muhammad Fazl and Khairullah Khairkhwah, who were freed from the United States prison at Gunatanamo Bay in 2014 in exchange for US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban in 2009 after he wandered off his base.

It is unclear whether a joint statement will be issued, or whether the provisions have been fully accepted by the USA side.

Other clauses include a deal over the exchange and release of prisoners from the warring sides, the removal of an global travel ban on several Taliban leaders by the United States and the prospect of an interim Afghan government after the ceasefire is struck, the Taliban sources said.

Last week, the Taliban threatened to walk away from talks, accusing Washington of seeking to "expand the agenda" - an apparent reference to United States demands that the insurgents hold direct talks with Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has rejected such an offer multiple times.

Trump has already said he will pull half of the 14,000 United States troops from Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, the government has repeatedly called on the Taliban to enter into direct peace talks.

However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.



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