Afghanistan’s warring sides have started negotiations for the first time, bringing together the Taliban and delegates appointed by the Afghan government for historic meetings aimed at ending decades of war.
Afghanistan's warring sides have started negotiations for the first time, bringing together the Taliban and delegates appointed by the Afghan government Saturday (local time) for historic meetings aimed at ending decades of war.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the opening ceremony in Qatar, where the meetings are taking place and where the Taliban maintain a political office.
The start of negotiations was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity by the Trump administration ahead of the US presidential election in November.
"Each of you carry a great responsibility," Mr Pompeo told the participants.
"You have an opportunity to overcome your divisions."
While Saturday's opening was about ceremony, the hard negotiations will be held behind closed doors and over a number of sessions.
But following a meeting with the Taliban on Saturday in Doha, Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the US and every Afghan would like to see a deal "sooner rather than later".
The sides will be tackling tough issues in the negotiations, which will include the terms of a permanent cease-fire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militias loyal to warlords, some of them aligned with the government.
Mr Khalilzad said a quick, permanent cease-fire is unlikely, but held out hope for a gradual reduction in violence until both sides are ready to end their fighting. Mistrust runs deep on both sides, he said.
The Afghan negotiation teams are also expected to discuss constitutional changes and power sharing during their talks.
Subsequent rounds of negotiations could be held outside Doha. Germany is among the countries offering to host future negotiations.
Even seemingly mundane issues like the flag and the name of the country — the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban's administration was known when it ruled — could find their way onto the negotiation table and roil tempers.
Among the government-appointed negotiators are four women, who have vowed to preserve women's rights in any power-sharing deal with the hardline Taliban.
This includes the right to work, education and participation in political life, all denied to women when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years.
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.
No women are on the Taliban's negotiation team, led by their chief justice Abdul Hakim.
The insurgent movement has said it accepted a woman's right to work, go to school and participate in politics but would not accept a woman as president or chief justice.
Deeply conservative members of the government-appointed High Council for National Reconciliation, which is overseeing the talks, also hold that women can't serve in either post.
How the talks were initially set up
The intra-Afghan negotiations were laid out in a peace deal Washington signed with the Taliban on February 29.
At that time the deal was touted as Afghanistan's best chance at peace in 40 years of war.
Yet Abdullah noted that since that agreement was reached, 1200 people have been killed and more than 15,000 wounded in attacks across the country.
The United Nations has urged a reduction of violence and criticised civilian casualties on both sides.
The current talks had been originally expected to begin within weeks of the signed agreement between the Taliban and the US.
But delays disrupted the timeline. The Afghan government balked at releasing 5000 Taliban prisoners, which was stipulated in the deal as a sign of good faith ahead of the negotiations.
The Taliban were required to release 1000 government and military personnel in their custody.
Political turmoil in Kabul further delayed talks as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival in controversial presidential polls the year before, Abdullah Abdullah, squabbled over who won, with both declaring victory.
The Taliban refusal to reduce the violence further hindered the start of talks.
Still the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan does not hinge on the success of the talks.
Washington's withdrawal is contingent on the Taliban honouring commitments to fight terrorist groups, in particular the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, and ensure that Afghanistan cannot again be used to attack America or its allies.
Source: 9News https://www.9news.com.au/world/afghanistan-news-taliban-government-seek-peace-deal/4a8327d3-fadc-4b5f-b812-c8686afd2737