LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Now to Afghanistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to that country, says the U.S. and the Taliban are at the threshold of an agreement after nine rounds of talks in Doha. Those talks have been going on for months with both parties negotiating a greater political role for the Taliban and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. But Taliban fighters are still on the offensive. This weekend, they launched two separate attacks on two northern cities. Reporter Jennifer Glasse is in Kabul. Jennifer, thanks for joining us.
JENNIFER GLASSE, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Leila.
FADEL: So this isn't the first time we've heard from negotiators that a deal is close. This war has been going on for two decades. What's different this time?
GLASSE: Well, we know that the U.S. secretary of state had said he kind of wanted a deal to happen by today, September 1. We have presidential elections happening later this month, September 28. There have been nine rounds of talks, as you said. But now we have the U.S. negotiator and the Taliban both saying that this latest round was successful. He is saying they're on the threshold of a deal, and he's on his way here to Kabul to consult with the Afghan government.
FADEL: So last week, President Trump said that the U.S. is considering only a partial troop withdrawal. And this was a surprise to the Taliban, according to a spokesperson who spoke to NPR. The impending deal they thought hinged on a full withdrawal. Do we actually know what's in the deal?
GLASSE: We're not sure. It hasn't been made public. What we understand is that there'll be a timeline for some sort of phased withdrawal of American forces in exchange for counterterrorism assurances from the Taliban. But really what's crucial is what's not in the deal. In March, there were four conditions - these counterterrorism, the U.S. withdrawal but also the inter-Afghan dialogue and a comprehensive cease-fire. Now then, Zalmay Khalilzad was saying there is no final agreement until everything is agreed. And now it seems as though he is saying that the inter-Afghan talks that will happen after this agreement is signed will basically spell out any sort of long-term peace and a long-term cease-fire. So we don't know how many specifics are in it and a lot of people here uneasy that they don't know what's - what exactly has been agreed.
FADEL: And then in the meantime, the Taliban is still launching attacks, and it seems like a tool for leverage. What will end the fighting?
GLASSE: Well, that is a great question. And the real question here - and the son of the famed Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud this week is actually hedging his bets. He is bringing together on Wednesday an anti-Taliban coalition. They say they're going to fight the Taliban politically and militarily, if necessary - really kind of an indication that the Afghans aren't sure that they can trust the Taliban at all. Leila, while these negotiations have begun going on for nine months, the Taliban have continued to fight on the ground trying to increase their leverage on the battlefield so that they would have more influence at the negotiating table. And so Afghans aren't sure whether this - any peace agreement will mean the fighting is going to stop.
FADEL: So then what does that mean for Afghanistan's upcoming presidential elections scheduled for later this month?
GLASSE: Well, President Ghani has insisted these elections should go forward. But this week, Abdullah Abdullah, his main contender and his chief executive officer, has said, he's ready to quit the elections for the sake of peace and that kind of throws things into question. So far, we understand the elections are going forward. Election materials are being distributed now as we speak. The elections are only four weeks away. And it - what's really uncertain is whether the Taliban who have vehemently opposed these elections have said that they will attack anything associated with the elections whether they're trying to make this a condition for further talks with the Afghans, which is the next step in this process.
FADEL: That's reporter Jennifer Glasse in Kabul. Jennifer, thank you.
GLASSE: Good to talk to you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.