As President Donald Trump shores up late-term priorities, the outgoing top US diplomat is on a 7-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East.
The Pentagon said earlier this week that it will quickly pull about 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, expanding the timetable outlined in a Washington-Taliban February deal that envisages a complete US withdrawal by mid-2021.
Trump has consistently promised to end “forever wars,” particularly in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever fight that started after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001 with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban.
In a rare deal with Trump, President-elect Joe Biden also supports winding down the Afghanistan war, while observers say he won’t be as wedded to a swift withdrawal.
For the first time, the Taliban are appealing to Afghanistan’s leadership.
The talks began in Doha on Sept. 12, but almost inevitably faltered over differences on the agenda, the underlying basis of discussions and theological interpretations.
Several sources said that, however the two parties seem to have settled some of the problems.
The Taliban and the Afghan government have failed, among the stumbling points so far to compromise on popular language on two major topics.
The Taliban, who are Sunni hardliners, insist on adhering to Islamic jurisprudence’s Hanafi school, but government negotiators say that this may be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are primarily Shia, and other minorities.
Another controversial subject is how the US-Taliban arrangement will form and relate to the potential Afghan peace settlement.
After the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February, the Doha peace talks opened, with the US promising to remove all foreign forces in return for security assurances and a Taliban commitment to launch talks.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan amid the negotiations, with the Taliban stepping up regular assaults against Afghan security forces.
By Jan 15, less than a week before his replacement Joe Biden is sworn in to office, Trump’s decision to cut troops was attacked by Kabul citizens who believe that it would embolden the Taliban to unleash a new wave of war.
The bulk of the country’s bloodshed has long been faced by Afghan people.
Kabul officials also fear that the Taliban’s position at the negotiation table will be hardened, where the future of hard-won reforms, including women’s rights, are on the line.