Doha, Qatar – The Taliban and the United States are “close” to finalising a peace agreement in their talks in the Qatari capital aimed at ending the 18-year Afghanistan war, the group’s representative has said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, the Taliban’s political spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said the two sides were finalising the agreement during the ninth round of negotiations, which entered their seventh day on Wednesday.
“The talks continue today [Wednesday] and we have reached the last point of the agreement,” Shaheen told Al Jazeera.
“The final point is the implementation and the mechanism of the deal which is being discussed,” he said.
The deal would see the US and other foreign forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban that the country will not be used as a launch-pad for global attacks.
After the two sides agree on the two central issues, a separate dialogue on ensuring a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to take place in the form of intra-Afghan talks.
So far, the Taliban has refused to speak to the Afghan government, calling it a “puppet regime” of the West. The group says any engagement with Kabul would grant the government legitimacy.
The Taliban, which was overthrown in 2001 by a US-led military coalition, has long demanded a complete withdrawal of foreign troops to “end the occupation” in Afghanistan.
The US accused the Taliban of sheltering fighters from al-Qaeda, the group blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
About 14,000 US troops and 17,000 troops from 39 NATO allies and partner countries are in Afghanistan in a non-combative role.
Washington hopes to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban by September 1 ahead of the Afghan presidential elections scheduled for September 28.
Meanwhile, civilian casualties from attacks by armed groups and air raids, including ground operations by Afghan forces, continue to rise in the country.
Despite the ongoing peace talks, the Taliban continued to stage attacks targeting mainly the Afghan forces and government officials, but a large number of civilians were also killed in the incidents.
On Wednesday, the Taliban claimed it had killed at least 14 members of a pro-government militia in the western province of Herat.
In one of the deadliest attacks this year, at least 80 people were killed and scores of others wounded in an explosion during a wedding in Kabul claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
According to the United Nations figures released last month, the Afghan and US forces killed more civilians in the first half of 2019 than the armed fighters.
Last year, a record 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed due in part to stepped-up air attacks by US-led forces and an increased number of suicide bombings carried out mainly by the Taliban, the UN said in February.