The agreement is three pages codifying “rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire,” tweeted Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan who has played a critical role in the talks.
“This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues. We congratulate both sides on their perseverance,” he said.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office welcomed Wednesday’s announcement in a tweet, calling it “a step forward,” and demanded negotiations secure “a cease-fire for a lasting peace in Afghanistan.”
A deal between the United States and the Taliban signed in February called for peace talks between the two Afghan sides to begin in March, but the negotiations have been beset by repeated delays.
It wasn’t until six months later that the parties came together in Doha, Qatar. Within days, negotiations stalled over issues related to the ground rules, but the two sides continued to meet under mounting U.S. pressure.
The main sticking points in Doha have been what school of Islamic thought would be used for resolving disputes during the talks and whether the U.S.-Taliban deal would be the basis of the negotiations. It’s unclear what compromise was reached. The Afghan government and the Taliban did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
While talks are set to enter the next phase, Taliban and Afghan government negotiators have not yet decided on what issues will make up the agenda and in what order they will be addressed.
The two teams have dramatically different priorities. Afghan government officials have said a cease-fire will be their first priority, but Taliban negotiators have said they will be open to discussing a cease-fire only after all other issues — ranging from human rights to prisoner swaps and the country’s future system of government — have been agreed upon.
With an incoming Biden administration in Washington, many feared the talks would only face further delays, with Afghan government officials holding out in hope that President-elect Joe Biden would take a tougher stand on the Taliban.
Some Afghan officials have called on Biden to conduct a full review of the peace process, while Taliban officials have urged the incoming president to remain committed to the agreement.
Since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal, Taliban fighters have launched several offensives on Afghan government-held territory, and unclaimed attacks in Afghan cities have been on the rise. On Sunday, a Humvee laden with explosives detonated inside an Afghan security forces compound killing at least 30, one of the deadliest attacks in the country in recent months.