US, Taliban open Doha talks in fresh bid to end war

The focus of the talks will be the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2019

US, Taliban open Doha talks in fresh bid to end war

  • The protracted war in Afghanistan began in 2001 to unseat the Taliban and hunt down Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers,
  • Taliban leaders have refused to meet directly with President Ashraf Ghani’s government but have held several rounds of talks with a collection of Afghan personalities from Kabul

ISLAMABAD: A fresh round of talks between the US and the Taliban began in Qatar on Saturday, just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is hoping for an Afghan peace agreement before Sept. 1.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to The Associated Press that negotiations had begun. Originally scheduled to begin in the morning, the two sides sat down mid-afternoon for the seventh time in a series of direct talks that began last year following the appointment of US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
As in previous talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, the focus is on the withdrawal of US troops and Taliban guarantees to prevent Afghanistan from again hosting militants who can stage global attacks. Both sides say they have come to an understanding on the withdrawal and the guarantees but details have yet to be worked out.
The protracted war in Afghanistan began in 2001 to unseat the Taliban and hunt down Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his followers, who carried out the 9-11 attacks in the United States while operating in Afghan territory. After nearly 18 years and billions of dollars spent, the Taliban control or contest roughly half of Afghan territory.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul last week, Pompeo said “real progress” had been made on a draft agreement with the Taliban to ensure “that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.”
Both Khalilzad and Pompeo have said that agreements with the Taliban will come hand in hand with understandings on an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent cease-fire. It was expected that a timetable would be among the discussion points in the Doha talks.
The Taliban’s negotiating team has been led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who co-founded the Taliban movement with its leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who ruled with an iron fist, imposing a strict brand of Islam. Omar died several years ago, while Baradar has been held in a Pakistani jail since 2010 until his release earlier this year.
The Taliban have refused to meet directly with President Ashraf Ghani’s government but have held several rounds of talks with a collection of Afghan personalities from Kabul, including former president Hamid Karzai, several prominent opposition leaders and government peace council members. Both those meetings were held in Moscow earlier this year.
The Taliban say they will meet with Afghan government officials but only as ordinary Afghans and not representatives of the government until an agreement with the US is finalized, saying the US is the final arbiter on the Taliban’s biggest issue of troop withdrawal.
Khalilzad has been in the region for several weeks meeting a legion of regional and Afghan officials, including Ghani. He has been relentless in his pursuit of an intra-Afghan dialogue after an earlier planned meeting between the government and the Taliban in Doha was scuttled when both sides disagreed on who should participate.
The Taliban have also refused a cease-fire. Taliban officials who have spoken to the AP say they won’t agree to a cease-fire until troop withdrawal is in place. That’s because returning Taliban fighters to the battlefield if the US reneges on its promises could be difficult. Taliban officials spoke on condition they not be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The latest round of talks comes amid heightened expectations that followed Pompeo’s optimistic time frame for a pact to end Afghanistan’s nearly 18-year war — America’s longest-running military engagement.
Also on Saturday, Afghan authorities accused the Taliban of killing at least 25 pro-government forces in northern Baghlan province. The Taliban, who have stepped up attacks in recent months against Afghanistan’s beleaguered national security personnel, said the attacks were retaliation for earlier attacks on their fighters.


Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.