Negotiations between the Taliban and U.S. officials in Qatar entered a fourth straight day on Thursday, according to the insurgents, as the two sides pursue a potential deal to bring an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year conflict.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to AFP that “discussions are still ongoing.”
“We will talk in detail later when we reach agreement,” the spokesman added.
Washington has been stepping up efforts for a peace deal that could pave the way for the Taliban’s participation in the next government. “Both sides are discussing the various aspects of the U.S. troops’ withdrawal,” a senior Taliban commander based in an unknown location in Pakistan told AFP, adding that a statement could be released later in the day or on Friday.
The Pakistan foreign ministry also confirmed that talks were ongoing between the two sides. However, there was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy or NATO in Kabul.
The U.S. said on Tuesday it had resumed talks with the insurgents in Qatar, where special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was meeting Taliban representatives.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on the Taliban, said the continuation of the talks represented “unprecedented” progress. “I have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “This is the first serious effort. And it has continued since July… they have agreed to disagree and continued to meet. That’s why it’s unprecedented.”
Talks have primarily focused on three major points: the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a vow to prevent Afghan soil from being a base for attacks on other countries, and a potential ceasefire, according to Yusufzai. Washington wants the insurgents to enter talks with the Afghan government, but they have long refused, denouncing Kabul as a U.S. puppet.
The talks come after Khalilzad spent the weekend in Pakistan where he met with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of a regional tour that saw the envoy shuttling between India, China and Afghanistan.
The U.S. is not the only country engaged in talks with the militants.
Russia and Iran have held meetings with the Taliban in recent months, while China has also made overtures. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan are all participating in the U.S. efforts.
“Pakistan has influence with the group, and the Russians also are somewhat supporting the Taliban,” said Ateequllah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based military analyst. “The meetings will continue in the future,” he added.
The resumption of talks comes over a month after President Donald Trump ordered a halving of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as he voices eagerness to end America’s longest-ever war, launched in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.