Afghan Taliban prepare for new peace talks with US

The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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Afghan Taliban prepare for new peace talks with US

  • The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai
  • The Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the United States showed seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: The Taliban are preparing to send a delegation for further talks with US officials about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday, adding that the meeting could address a possible prisoner swap.
The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-person delegation and the subjects to be discussed.
They said the Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the United States showed seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners.
“This meeting will determine the future talks and we would see if the US is serious and sincere in negotiation,” one of the officials involved said.
“We would hand over a list of prisoners languishing in jails across Afghanistan. If they set free our prisoners then we would meet again for another great cause.”
If confirmed, the meeting would follow an earlier round of talks in Doha in July, where Taliban officials met Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the US State Department.
The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the officials said.
However they said the high command was planning to replace Stanakzai, who has been serving as interim head, with a new permanent head of the Qatar office.
“You may know Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai was deputed in the Qatar office on acting charge basis. The top leadership is now planning to appoint someone else in his place,” one said.
Hopes that peace talks to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan have stuttered in recent months, following the failure to agree a repeat of the unprecedented Eid cease-fire in June which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.
Over the past year, the United States has stepped up air strikes against the Taliban and boosted training for Afghan forces. However US officials say the goal is to reach a negotiated, Afghan-led settlement to end the war.
On the Taliban side, the assault on the strategic city of Ghazni last month that killed hundreds of soldiers, police and civilians underlined the insurgents’ determination to increase pressure on the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of US-led troops, have maintained their refusal to negotiate directly with the internationally recognized Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime put in place by foreign powers and say they will only talk to the United States.
As the push for talks has picked up following the Eid cease-fire in June, the United States has agreed to participate directly and has appointed former US ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to reinforce the effort.


Death toll rises from Sri Lanka hotel, church blasts: police

Updated 2 min 50 sec ago
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Death toll rises from Sri Lanka hotel, church blasts: police

  • The churches hit were in the north of the capital, and the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo
  • At least 52 people were killed in the blasts

COLOMBO: Two Sri Lankan churches and two hotels were hit by explosions on Easter Sunday, killing more than 50 and wounding several people, police sources said.
The hotels and one of the churches are in the nation’s capital Colombo. The other church is in Negombo, north of Colombo.
A source in the police bomb squad said that one of the explosions was at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo. “Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties,” the source said.
Sources from two leading tourist hotels in Colombo also confirmed the explosions but did not give any details.
Colombo National hospital said several wounded had been brought in for treatment.
St. Sebastian’s church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility.