US envoy briefs Afghan president on draft peace deal with Taliban

KABUL: The US envoy leading efforts to forge a deal with the Taliban has met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, officials said on Monday, as a historic agreement with the insurgents appeared close.
Zalmay Khalilzad has spent about a year meeting with the Taliban in Doha in a series of talks aimed at ending America’s 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.
The deal centres on a US troop withdrawal in return for several security guarantees from the Taliban, broader peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government, and an eventual ceasefire.
Khalilzad — a former US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq — arrived in Kabul on Sunday evening following a ninth round of talks up with the Taliban in the Qatari capital.
He met with Ghani on Monday, when he showed the Afghan leader a draft of the US-Taliban agreement, officials said.
“We will look into the document and discussions with Amb Khalilzad and team will continue,” Ghani’s adviser Waheed Omar tweeted, adding that additional details would be provided later in the day.
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said in a statement he too had been briefed and assured of “a thorough and sustainable peace in Afghanistan”.
The discussions are significant because the Afghan government has been largely sidelined from talks until now, though any eventual deal would require the Taliban to talk to Ghani.
On Sunday, Khalilzad said the US and the Taliban were at the “threshold” of a deal that would reduce violence and pave the way for “sustainable” peace.
But even as negotiations have entered their apparent final stage, violence has continued apace across Afghanistan.
On Saturday, the Taliban attempted to seize Kunduz in the north, and on Sunday, they launched an operation in the city of Pul-e Khumri, the capital of neighbouring Baghlan province.
Afghan officials on Monday said Pul-e Khumri had been cleared of Taliban fighters.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has previously said he hoped a peace deal would be finalised before September 1, ahead of Afghan polls.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, said on Saturday a deal was “near to finalised” but did not specify what obstacles remain. — AFP