Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told the news outlet Breitbart that the intra-Afghan negotiating process is moving on pace with the peace deal that the US and the Taliban clinched in late February.
The agreement in particular envisages slashing the US troop count in Afghanistan to zero by April or May of 2021.
Pompeo claimed that the task might only be resolved if Kabul and Taliban leaders stick to three main conditions of the deal, which specifically pertain to the ban of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan and the sides’ involvement in full-fledged and “serious” intra-Afghan talks.
“Then, third, they [the sides] have a responsibility as part of that to ensure that outside actors don’t act as spoilers for this, and there are many hands who would like to see this undone and would like to see America mired in Afghanistan for another 20 years. Both the Afghan government and the Taliban have a responsibility to prevent that. Those are the conditions, we’ll measure them,” the US Secretary of State emphasised.
He insisted that despite “very difficult issues and […] bumps in the road”, the intra-Afghan talks were moving in the right direction, which may help the US finally withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan before the end of next year.
“I’m happy with the progress that was made today,” he pointed out, referring to the negotiating process.
When asked about the sticking points related to the peace deal, Pompeo stressed that they first of all pertain to “power-sharing and how the government is established at the centre of the conversation”.
“In the end, the central challenge is what will the Afghan government look like. What will be the power-sharing arrangement? This is a challenge anytime you have throughout history insurgencies and other times when nations have civil strife,” the Secretary of State noted.
Pompeo also singled out his previous meetings with Taliban co-founder and lead negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, expressing confidence that that the two sides would manage to arrive at a consensus during the talks.
"It’s the third time, maybe the fourth time, that I’ve spoken to him - the second time I’ve met with him in person. They have a very clear set of objectives, of things that they are laying down that they want and they need. When I understand what the Afghan government wants and needs, and what the people of Afghanistan outside of the Taliban and Taliban-controlled territories want, I’m convinced there is a solution to this. I hope that that’s the case,” Pompeo concluded.
Intra-Afghan Peace Talks Kick Off in Doha
The remarks came shortly before the beginning of the historic intra-Afghan peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha, after both parties agreed to start the negotiations on Saturday.
The talks have been delayed several times, as both the government in Kabul and the Taliban have disagreed over the ongoing release of prisoners, which is part of the US-Taliban peace deal.
In the past few months, the militant group has continued to target civilians with bomb blasts and conduct ambushes on military outposts. The Afghan military has also continued its attempts to neutralise members of the militant group.
US-Taliban Peace Deal
The US-Taliban deal, which was clinched in Doha on 29 February, suggests a gradual withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan.
The first phase seeks to slim US forces down to 8,600 in the first 135 days following the deal's ratification. Residual US forces will pull out over the next nine-and-a-half months, and all military bases will be abandoned.
In return, the Taliban promised to prevent terrorist organisations from using Afghan territory to threaten the security of the US and its allies.
*Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and a number of other countries