United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad clarified early Thursday that the United States had not outlined a troop withdrawal timetable during talks with the Afghan Taliban.
In a tweet, Khalilzad addresses ‘claims’ made by Taliban officials that the US had a troop pull-out timetable for Afghanistan. “Today, they correctly retracted that claim. To be clear: no troop withdrawal timetable exists.”
The statement came after a Taliban official confirmed on Wednesday that no timetable had been agreed with the US government for the partial withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and that negotiations were still underway.
Earlier, Russia’s RIA news agency had quoted a Taliban official at peace talks in Moscow as saying that Washington had promised to pull out half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April.
But that report was contradicted at the end of the talks in Moscow, with the Taliban official previously quoted by RIA, Abdul Salam Hanafi, denying that he had made the comment. He said there was no detailed agreement with the US chief negotiator Khalilzad who has been meeting separately with Taliban negotiators. “Until now we did not agree,” the Taliban official said.
On an April withdrawal, he said: “It’s our desire. It is our demand … Our demand is withdrawing of foreign forces as soon as possible.”
“Very successful” talks in Moscow
It was the second time President Ashraf Ghani was frozen out of such talks in recent weeks after the US held entirely separate discussions with the insurgents in Doha without Kabul.
All parties agreed to support the Doha peace talks with American negotiators that President Donald Trump described on Tuesday as “constructive”.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, among the Afghan opposition politicians attending the talks, said the principal issue under discussion was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces. He said there was a near-consensus in the talks on this subject. “It was very satisfactory,” said Karzai.
Karzai, who was president from 2001 to 2014, said he was “happy” to sit down with his former foes. “We always wanted to speak to our brothers, the Taliban,” he said.
He added delegates agreed on “almost” everything – but a consensus was not reached over the Taliban’s demand for an Islamic constitution, and the group’s views on women.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation, made a rare appearance in front of international media besides a smiling Karzai.
“This meeting was very successful,” the Taliban official told reporters, flanked by the former president who was appointed after US-led forces routed the Taliban in 2001.
“We agreed on many points and I am hopeful that in future, we can succeed further, and finally we can reach a solution. We can find complete peace in Afghanistan.”
Fawzia Koofi, one of two female delegates among the dozens of men at the table, questioned the militants’ insistence that women’s rights be upheld “in accordance with Islamic values”.
“I… (lived) in Afghanistan during (the) Taliban time, and I know their interpretation of Islamic rights of (a) woman is different,” Koofi, head of Afghanistan’s parliamentary Committee on Women and Human Rights, told reporters.
She voted against the joint statement – but said delegates had promised her concerns would be taken up at future negotiations.
Under their rule, the Taliban severely curtailed women’s liberties, barring them from work and school, and confined women to their homes – only allowing them outside with a male escort and hidden beneath a burqa.
In the Russian capital, in scenes unthinkable under their regime, the Taliban sat and listened as women defended their hard-earned freedoms in a modern Afghanistan.
The Moscow conference was the Taliban’s most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in years.
But it was also striking because the Taliban – who banned television, cinemas and photography when they ruled Afghanistan – are rarely so visible.
Their leadership is seldom seen in public and scenes of Taliban officials outlining their manifesto for live television is virtually unheard of.
Speaking to the Afghan envoys, they promised not to seek a monopoly on power but an “inclusive Islamic system” of governance for Afghanistan.
With additional input from Reuters and AFP.