KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban representatives said on Wednesday they had reached a preliminary deal to press on with peace talks, their first written agreement in 19 years of war welcomed by the United Nations and Washington. The agreement lays out the way forward for further discussion and is considered a breakthrough because it will allow negotiators to move on to more substantive issues, including talks on a ceasefire. “The procedure including its preamble of the negotiation has been finalised and from now on, the negotiation will begin on the agenda,” Nader Nadery, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told Reuters. The Taliban spokesman confirmed the same on Twitter. The agreement comes after months of discussions in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in negotiations encouraged by the United States. In Afghanistan, the two sides are still at war, with Taliban attacks on government forces continuing unabated. US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that the two sides had agreed on a “three-page agreement codifing rules and procedures for their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire”. “This agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues,” he said on Twitter. Taliban insurgents have refused to agree to a ceasefire during the preliminary stages of talks, despite calls from Western capitals and global bodies, saying that that would be taken up only when the way forward for talks was agreed upon. UN envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons welcomed the “positive development” on Twitter, adding that “this breakthrough should be a springboard to reach the peace wanted by all Afghans”. Last month, an agreement reached between Taliban and government negotiators was held up at the last minute after the insurgents balked at the document’s preamble because it mentioned the Afghan government by name. The Taliban refused to refer to the Afghan negotiating team as representatives of the Afghan government, as they contest the legitimacy of the administration led by President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as a puppet of the United States. The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by US-led forces for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States. A US-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban have control over wide areas of the country. Under an Islamabad-brokered February deal, foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counter-terrorism guarantees from the Taliban, including negotiating a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.