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US-Taliban deal 'close', insurgents claim


AFP Kabul
The US and the Taliban are "close" to reaching an agreement for a deal that would see the Pentagon slash its troop numbers in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the insurgents said Wednesday.
The two foes have been meeting in Doha in recent days in a bid to put the final touches on a historic deal that would see the Taliban make various security guarantees in return for a sharp reduction in the 13,000 or so American troops based in Afghanistan.
"We are close to an agreement. We hope to bring good news for our Muslim and freedom seeking nation soon," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
The US embassy in Kabul did not immediately comment. But Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad would come to Kabul in "one or two" days to brief the Afghan leader about the deal.
A senior Taliban commander in Pakistan told AFP that a meeting of insurgent leaders was underway at an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the senior figures were reviewing the proposed agreement.
"All the Shura (consultation) members have received the draft and they are reading it carefully, yet no go-ahead signal has been given to the Taliban negotiating team in Doha," the Taliban official said.
"It may take a day or two, as Taliban leadership has to take all the commanders into confidence".
The apparent final phase of talks heaves into view the end of an excruciating few months for Afghans who have watched on nervously and largely voiceless as America cuts a deal with the Taliban while largely sidelining Ghani's government.
After 18 years of war, the US wants to end its military involvement in Afghanistan and has been talking to the insurgents since at least 2018.
Most of the work was led by Afghan-born Khalilzad, a fluent Pashto and Dari speaker who has spent recent months shuttling between world capitals in a bid to build support for a deal with the Islamist hardliners known for their extreme interpretations of Sharia law.
On Tuesday in Doha, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told reporters a deal could be expected "as soon as the remaining points are finalised", as negotiators wrangled over individual words and phrases in the draft.
The agreement will centre on the US withdrawing troops in exchange for a Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a jihadist safe haven, talks with the Afghan government and an eventual ceasefire.
In the Afghan capital on Wednesday, Amnesty International called on the US and the Taliban to also consider human rights in any deal.
"Any peace agreement must not ignore (Afghans') voices, the voices of the victims, they must not ignore their calls for justice and accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations," Omar Waraich, Amnesty's deputy South Asia director, told reporters.
While the Taliban are notorious for numerous human rights abuses, violations have also been perpetrated by pro-government forces.

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First Published: Aug 28 2019 | 8:00 PM IST

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