DOHA -- Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar are ready to advance to the next stage, both sides said Wednesday (December 2) after agreeing on rules for the talks.
The meetings, which began September 12, had been bogged down by disputes on the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Procedures for the intra-Afghan negotiations have been finalised and discussions on the agenda will follow, Nader Nadery, a member of the government's negotiating team, said on Twitter.
"The current negotiations of both negotiation teams show that there is willingness among Afghans to reach a sustainable peace and both sides are committed to continue their sincere efforts to reach a sustainable peace in Afghanistan," he tweeted.
Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman for the Taliban, also confirmed that the procedures for the talks had been "finalised".
"From now on, the negotiations will begin on the agenda," he tweeted.
The two sides have been engaging directly for the first time following a landmark deal signed in February by the insurgents and Washington.
The United States agreed to withdraw all foreign forces by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the breakthrough, tweeting that it was a "significant milestone".
"This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues," he tweeted. "We congratulate both sides on their perseverance."
"As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will work hard with all sides for serious reduction of violence and even a ceasefire during this period," he said. "This is what the Afghan people want and deserve."
Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, also lauded the breakthrough.
"I welcome the initial major step taken in Doha today agreeing to the procedural framework that paves the way for discussions about the peace agenda," he tweeted. "I thank the republic's negotiation team, all facilitators & the host Qatar for their valuable support."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for "expedited discussions" during a visit to Doha on November 21 during which he met with both Taliban and Afghan government negotiators.
Despite the progress in Doha, there has been a surge of violence in Afghanistan in recent weeks, with insurgents launching almost daily attacks on Afghan forces, primarily in rural areas, since signing the deal with Washington in February.