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US and Taliban negotiators have agreed on a draft framework for a peace deal seeking to put an end to the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan, Washington’s top negotiator has said.

US negotiators held six days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar last week.

The Afghan president has made a new call for direct talks with the Islamist group, but they have so far refused, dismissing the government as “puppets”.

The group ruled the country from 1996-2001 and remain a top insurgent force.

Their rule ended when the US invaded Afghanistan after al-Qaeda – which had used the country as a base – carried out the 9/11 attacks in the US.

Analysts say it could be years before a substantive peace deal is reached.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, was in Kabul to brief the Afghan government about the talks.

“We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” he told The New York Times in an interview, adding that as part of the proposed deal the Taliban would vow to prevent Afghanistan being used as a hub for terrorism

The Trump administration’s strategy has been to put pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

It is exploring a full withdrawal of US troops – in return for a ceasefire and a commitment by the Taliban to these direct talks.

The Taliban say they will only begin negotiations with the government once a firm date for troop withdrawal has been agreed.

The 17-year conflict has caused huge loss of life. According to UN figures, between 6,000 and 11,000 civilians have been killed every year since 2009.

Until the interview, the US envoy had only released a series of tweets about the talks – saying “significant progress” had been made but without providing details.

The discussions clearly remain at a provisional stage – and a long way from agreement on the broader issues required for lasting peace in Afghanistan – but after years of stalemate, it’s welcome progress, says the BBC’s South Asia editor Jill McGivering.

A senior Taliban official who attended the talks told the BBC over the weekend that both sides had agreed to form two committees to draw up detailed plans on how to implement agreements in principle on two key issues:

The Taliban official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committees would “identify routes for the withdrawal, and how much time is needed. We suggested six months, but are flexible”.


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