Trump, Taliban negotiator talk
KABUL/WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund on Tuesday, the first known conversation between a United States leader and a top Taliban official, as a dispute over a prisoner release threatened a US-led effort to bring peace to Afghanistan.
The call, announced on Twitter by a Taliban spokesman and then confirmed by Trump, came three days after Baradar and US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad signed an agreement in Qatar for a withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
That deal, a step toward ending America’s longest war, could boost Trump’s bid for a second term in the November 3 US election. Trump has made a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan a priority.
The pact calls for a phased withdrawal of US-led foreign forces if the Taliban keeps its commitments and for the March 10 start of talks between the insurgents and an Afghan delegation on a political settlement to end decades of conflict.
But the peace effort quickly hit an obstacle, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refusing to implement a part of the accord – to which his government was not a party –providing for the release of up to 5 000 Taliban prisoners.
Ghani said the issue should be negotiated, but the Taliban demanded about 5 000 prisoners go free before peace talks begin.
In a statement on the 35-minute Trump-Baradar conversation, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid suggested Baradar gave no ground on the issue.