U.S. and Taliban negotiators will consult their leaders following an eighth round of peace talks to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban says.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the negotiations in the Qatari capital, Doha, ended early on August 12, adding: "It was long and useful. Both sides decided to consult with their leaders/seniors for the next steps."
U.S. officials didn’t immediately comment.
But on August 11, as Afghans were marking the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope that “this is the last Eid where Afghanistan is at war.”
“I know Afghans yearn for peace. We stand with them and are working hard toward a lasting & honorable peace agreement and a sovereign Afghanistan which poses no threat to any other country,” Khalilzad tweeted.
“Many scholars believe that the deeper meaning of [Eid Al-Adha] is to sacrifice one's ego. Leaders on all sides of the war in Afghanistan must take this to heart as we strive for peace,” he wrote in a separate tweet.
Few details have emerged, but a U.S.-Taliban deal would cover the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in exchange for guarantees by the Taliban that Afghanistan would not become a haven for other extremist groups.
Such an accord would be followed by intra-Afghan peace negotiations on a political settlement and a permanent cease-fire.
The Taliban has so far refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, calling it a “puppet regime.”
Upcoming Presidential Election
As U.S. and Taliban negotiators appeared to be closing in on an accord, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on August 11 said Afghanistan’s future “cannot be decided outside.”
Ghani insisted that peace was only possible "between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement."
Washington has said it wants a peace deal finalized by September 1, and some U.S. officials have hinted at the possibility that the Afghan presidential election set for September 28 could be canceled in the event of a peace settlement and the formation of an interim government that the Taliban would join.
Ghani called for the vote to be held as planned, saying: “Without a legitimate and strong government that comes through an election, Afghans won't be able to achieve a dignified peace."
Earlier this month, the militants denounced the election as a "sham," and warned fellow Afghans to stay away from campaign rallies and the polls, saying such gatherings could be targeted.
On August 12, Afghanistan's National Directorate For Security intelligence service announced in a statement that 35 Taliban prisoners will be released as "a clear sign" of the government's "strong will" for peace.