Talks on a pact that would allow the United States to end its longest war and withdraw troops from Afghanistan ended on 12 August 2019 without agreement and both sides would consult their leaders on the next steps, the Taliban said. The talks, held in Qatar since late last year, have brought hopes for a deal allowing US troops to leave in exchange for a Taliban promise that Afghanistan will not be used by militants as a base from which to plot attacks abroad.
  1. But the United States is pushing for Taliban agreement on two other elements: power-sharing talks with the US-backed government and a ceasefire.
  2. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the eighth round of talks, which a US official said earlier involved technical details of the implementation of the pact, ended in the early hours and both sides would consult their leaders.
  3. The US negotiators were demanding that the Taliban announce a ceasefire and start direct talks with the Afghan government.
  4. The Taliban, fighting since their ouster in 2001 to expel foreign forces and establish an Islamic state, responded by calling for the United States to announce a roadmap for the withdrawal of their forces.
  5. US officials were not immediately available for comment but the chief US negotiator, veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, said on 11 August 2019 hard work was being done "toward a lasting and honourable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country".
  6. An agreement would allow US President Donald Trump to achieve his aim of ending a war launched in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
  7. The US has been negotiating with its longtime foe over the past year for a pact that would see the Pentagon begin to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.
  8. The US is keen to end its 18-year involvement in Afghanistan, where it has spent more than $1tn, and President Donald Trump has said he wants troops return home.
  9. In return, the Taliban would commit to various security guarantees, including that the Islamist hardliners who long harboured Al-Qaeda would not allow Afghanistan to become a jihadist safe haven.
  10. A US-Taliban agreement would not in itself bring Afghanistan's war to an end, as the insurgents would still need to make a deal with the Kabul government.
  11. Many Afghans had been hoping for a ceasefire to be announced over Eid. This has not happened, but recent days have been relatively calm.
  12. Today, Afghanistan's intelligence service announced 35 Taliban prisoners would be released "as a gesture of goodwill".
Who are the Taliban?
  1. The Taliban have also threatened to destabilise Pakistan, where they have controlled areas in the north-west in recent years. Despite a major military offensive against them since 2014, they continue to mount frequent suicide bombings and other attacks across the country.
  2. Many observers now believe that future peace in Afghanistan can only come if the government in Kabul negotiates with the Taliban.
  3. The announcement of Taliban plans to open an office in Qatar in June 2013 was seen as a positive step in those negotiations, but mistrust on both sides remains high. Despite this, talks between the Taliban and Afghan government officials took place for the first time in July 2015.
  4. Those talks came a month after a group of Afghan women met Taliban representatives in Oslo. Further contacts with the group have failed to make progress.
  5. In September 2015, the Afghan Taliban said they had put aside weeks of infighting and rallied around a new leader in the form of Mullah Mansour, who had been the deputy of longstanding leader Mullah Omar.
  6. The previous month the Taliban admitted they had covered up Mullah Omar's death for more than two years.