U.S. Inching Closer To Afghan Peace Deal
NOEL KING, HOST:
A senior Taliban official says the group may sign a peace deal with the United States by the end of this month. That deal would start the process of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan if it can be pulled off. NPR's Diaa Hadid is on the line with us from Kabul.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello.
KING: So what are the specifics here? What did the Taliban say today?
HADID: Right. So before I get to that, just to remind listeners of where we are - negotiations have been going on for months for a deal that would allow America to largely withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. But this has been a really complicated process. And it was upturned once before by President Trump in September. But on Friday, American officials said the Taliban had agreed to a reduction of violence for seven days, and that's meant to pave the way for a deal to begin. OK. That was Friday.
HADID: (Laughter) Yes. Today a Taliban spokesman sent us a three-minute video of a senior member of their delegation. His name is Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi. And he says that they and the United States have agreed to sign a deal by the end of the month. Separately, I've been exchanging messages with Suhail Shaheen. He's another Taliban spokesman. And he says the agreement with the Americans is being completed. And he says there'll be some form of reduction in violence before the agreement is signed. He says once the agreement is signed, intra-Afghan negotiations will begin.
Now, what all these details suggest is that the Taliban are confident that the beginning stages of this deal now has momentum. And it also gives us a sense of what the Taliban are expecting.
KING: This sounds similar to what U.S. officials have been saying.
HADID: It is similar. It's not exactly what the Americans have said, but it's close. What it does suggest is that both sides seem to be on board for this to go ahead. And it's also important to say that while both sides have said they will - while both sides say there will be a reduction in violence, neither the Americans or the Taliban have said when that will begin. And they're not calling it a cease-fire either.
KING: OK. This is a process that has been going on for some years now. There is still - there are still some ways that this could go awry, yeah?
HADID: Yeah. I mean, when you consider, like, how many challenges that face this deal, it's hard to see how it can go right. But you know, it's important to have hope. American officials have said that it could be spoilers from Taliban fighters on the ground who don't want to accept a deal to ISIS militants who might use that time to conduct attacks.
But there's other complications on this side, as well. For instance, Hanafi, that senior Taliban official who released the video today, says that Taliban prisoners should be released before intra-Afghan talks can go ahead. And we haven't heard anybody else say that yet.
And those intra-Afghan talks, that's a really important and really tricky part of this deal, as well, because that's when Afghans have to negotiate among themselves on the future of their own country. But the side that's meant to negotiate with the Taliban - Afghan politicians, civil society, senior prominent officials - they still haven't formed a delegation because Afghan officials are still fighting over who won presidential elections in September.
KING: Oh, OK.
HADID: Yeah, it's been four months. And so we spoke to one senior government official today who says they can't form a delegation for talks until that's decided. So it throws a whole new complication into the works.
KING: And what's been the reaction in Afghanistan? Anything notable?
HADID: We've been speaking to people in Kabul. And Kabul is a bit more liberal than the rest of the country. And people are nervous. They remember what Taliban rule was like here in the '90s. And they're really worried that if the Taliban come back to power, this country will go back two decades.
KING: NPR's Diaa Hadid on the line from Kabul. Diaa, thanks so much.
HADID: Thank you, Noel.
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