US meets Taliban in attempt to revive Afghanistan talks

Ben Farmer
Zalmay Khalilzad met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - REUTERS

American officials have again met Taliban envoys to discuss ways to revive talks after Donald Trump killed off a potential deal last month.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr Trump's chief negotiator, met the leader of the Taliban's representatives, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Pakistan earlier this month.

Officials discussed either a prisoner swap or truce with the Taliban as a confidence-building sign that talks can begin again, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Taliban held a three day truce to mark the religious holiday of Eid ul-Fitr in June 2018, but have since refused to repeat the gesture. Their refusal to offer a ceasefire as part of talks earlier this year helped harden the Afghan government against the deal.

One diplomat briefed on the negotiations told the Telegraph “everyone is pushing” the Taliban for a ceasefire as a confidence-building measure to resume talks.

A truce would give Mr Trump a face-saving way of announcing negotiations were back on, the source said.

Another possibility would be a prisoner swap. Two professors, an American and an Australian, who were kidnapped in 2016 while teaching at the American University of Afghanistan in 2016, would be exchanged for senior Taliban figures including Anas Haqqani, a high-ranking member of the Haqqani network.

United States and Taliban envoys spent more than a year meeting in Doha drawing up a draft deal allowing America to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in return for Taliban assurances they would not harbour international terrorists like al-Qaeda.

The deal was close to signing, when Mr Trump appeared to get cold feet, as opinion against the pact seemed to harden in Washington. Prominent figures questioned whether the US had made too many concessions and whether the Taliban could be trusted to keep their end. The Afghan government complained the prospective deal sold them out.

The country has since voted for a new president in an election where the result will not be known for several weeks and is likely to be fiercely contested.

Mr Trump used a rally in Minnesota last week to signal he was still open to negotiation. He told supporters: "We're pulling people out and we're trying to make good deals and we're going to bring our soldiers back home.