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Afghans Worry Withdrawal Of Foreign Forces May Compromise Peace Talks With Taliban

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When the U.S. and the Taliban signed a deal in February, it called for most foreign forces to leave by April. And thousands of U.S. and NATO troops have left in the months since. That deal also called for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Those began earlier this month. The man leading the Afghan delegation told NPR's Diaa Hadid today that time is short, and they have to work with urgency.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Many Afghans worry the Taliban have the upper hand in these talks because the military withdrawals mean the government has lost its main leverage - U.S. and NATO muscle. But Abdullah Abdullah, who oversees the government's peace negotiations, says they have to work to that reality.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: It's obvious that the United States has made it decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

HADID: Abdullah says there might be delays, but the troops are leaving.

ABDULLAH: That will happen, if not in five months' time, perhaps in a year or more. That is very obvious. And we as Afghans need to be prepared for that.

HADID: He says what's important is that the U.S. hold the Taliban up to a key condition of the military withdrawal - that they effectively cut ties with al-Qaida.

ABDULLAH: That remains to be seen. That's not obvious at the moment whether the Taliban have delivered on that front.

HADID: Abdullah says they have to negotiate quickly while the U.S. is still engaged in Afghanistan, largely through envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has shepherded these talks. And ultimately, he says, Afghans have to make peace with each other.

ABDULLAH: Am I 100% sure that this will happen? That depends on both sides.

HADID: Right now, the talks are bogged down in procedural issues. Experts say, given the distance between the positions of the two sides on key issues, the talks could take years. The Afghan government is hoping to show some early results like a ceasefire. Otherwise...

ABDULLAH: There is that risk that that momentum, which is now behind the process, will be damaged.

HADID: But the Taliban have so far refused. Abdullah's hoping this visit to Pakistan, where officials have sway over the insurgents, might convince them to agree to one and show the Afghan people what their future could look like if these talks succeed.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.