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Afghan Leaders See 'Notable Progress' In U.S.-Taliban Talks

FILE: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul in June 2019.

Leaders in Afghanistan say the United States has made “notable progress” in ongoing peace talks with representatives of the Taliban that are taking pace in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Late on February 11, President Ashraf Ghani tweeted that he had received a call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sharing with him the latest developments in the turbulent U.S.-Taliban peace process aimed at ending the 18-year-old Afghan war.

“The Secretary informed me about the Taliban’s proposal with regards to bringing a significant and enduring reduction in violence,” said President Ghani, without elaborating.

The nearly 18-months of U.S.-Taliban peace talks lately have bogged down over Washington’s demands for the insurgent group to significantly cut Afghan violence in return for an American troop drawdown in the country.

The Taliban’s refusal, however, to go beyond its proposed weeklong scaling back of insurgent operations until an agreement is signed with the U.S. has in recent days halted progress in the dialogue process.

Last week, Pompeo demanded “demonstrable evidence” the Taliban would reduce violence before signing a deal.

Ghani’s statement after his conversation with Pompeo on February 11 suggested the insurgents had reviewed their traditional stance to break the impasse in the peace process.

There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban.

Separately, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said Secretary Pompeo also called him and discussed the progress made in talks with the Taliban talks.

Abdullah noted in a statement that Pompeo “expressed optimism that a reduction in violence and progress with current talks could lead to an agreement that would pave the way for intra-Afghan talks leading to durable peace.”

Analysts were quick to underline the importance of calls between Afghan leaders and Secretary Pompeo.

“Looks like U.S.-Taliban deal is imminent. That will be the biggest milestone by far in 10 years of off-and-on efforts to launch an Afghan peace process,” tweeted Laurel Miller, a former U.S. State Department envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Taliban and U.S. negotiators are due to meet February 12 in the Qatari capital of Doha. The meeting, insurgent sources say, could lead to the announcement of a deal to de-escalate battlefield violence between Taliban and U.S.-led foreign troops as a first step toward the signing of a final peace deal.

Under the proposed peace agreement negotiated by Taliban and American officials, the insurgents would be bound to engage in intra-Afghan negotiations on a nationwide cease-fire and post-war power-sharing in Afghanistan.

“The next stage — the negotiations among Afghans that are supposed to come next — will be much more complex and could well take longer. A U.S.-Taliban agreement is an important prelude but will only have enduring significance if intra-Afghan talks produce a real peace deal,” said Miller, currently the director of Asia program at the International Crisis Group.

The conflict in Afghanistan started in 2001 when a U.S.-led military coalition invaded the country and ousted from power the Taliban rulers at the time for sheltering al-Qaida leaders. The Taliban has since waged a deadly insurgency, and it currently controls or contests nearly half of Afghan territory.

Afghan civilians, however, bear the brunt of the war, which has killed or injured more than 100,000 civilians in the last 10 years alone, according to the United Nations.