KABUL: Afghan soldiers gather on a road following a suicide attack near the Marshal Fahim Military Academy base in Kabul. – AFP

KABUL: The US and the Taleban appeared closer yesterday to a breakthrough in talks over an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said there had been “notable progress” in negotiations. Washington and the insurgents have been locked in grueling discussions that have stretched over more than a year for a deal that would see the US pull thousands of troops out of Afghanistan. In return, the Taleban would provide various security guarantees and launch eventual talks with the Kabul government.

In a series of tweets late Tuesday, Ghani said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had called him to inform him of developments in the talks, which are taking place in Doha. “Today, I was pleased to receive a call from @SecPompeo, informing me of the notable progress made in the ongoing peace talks with the Taleban,” Ghani said on his official Twitter account. “The Secretary informed me about the Taleban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence.” A Taleban source in Pakistan told AFP that insurgent and US negotiators would meet again Wednesday in Doha.

Citing Afghan and US officials, the New York Times reported that US President Donald Trump had given conditional approval to a deal with the Taleban. The two foes have been on the brink of a breakthrough before, with a deal all but complete in September before Trump nixed it at the last moment amid continued Taleban violence. The Times said Trump would only give final approval to the deal if the Taleban stick to a reduction in violence of “about seven days later this month”. The Taleban source in Pakistan said the group has agreed to the proposal.

He said to all intents and purposes, this would be a ceasefire, but it could not be named that because of various “complications”. Despite ongoing talks between the US and the Taleban, Afghanistan’s war has raged on, with the number of clashes jumping to record levels in the last quarter of 2019, according to a recent US government watchdog report. Afghans living in a Pakistani refugee camp were skeptical any deal could lead to real peace, with one, 60-year-old Hazrat Hussain, warning that a US withdrawal could see the country plunge into civil war – as it did after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989.

“People are afraid of infighting and a new war,” he said at the camp on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar. In his annual State of the Union address on February 4, Trump renewed his vow to negotiate a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. “We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home,” he said, offering his blessing for the negotiations with the Taleban. – AFP