Taliban-US talks resume in Doha without Afghan govt

Taliban-US talks resume in Doha without Afghan govt

KABUL: The Taliban announced that their delegates resumed talks with US diplomats in Doha on Wednesday, without representatives from President Ashraf Ghani’s government, in an effort to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the meeting, led by US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, was pre-planned and had no link to a grand consultation gathering — known as the Loya Jirga — organized by Ghani in Kabul.

“Today the sixth round of talks will take place between the negotiation teams of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) and US officials in Doha,” Mujahid said in the statement.

The announcement came after Ghani canceled a major meeting including members of his government and the Taliban in Doha a few weeks ago.

At the meeting, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s deputy leader who is leading the talks, insisted on the full troop pullout from Afghanistan. The pullout and the Taliban pledge for not allowing Afghan soil to be used against any nation were the two issues discussed during the last round.

“It is absolutely vital that the two key agenda points of the previous meeting … be finalized,” a statement cited Baradar as telling Khalilzad.

Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, a Taliban specialist, said Khalilzad and the group would no doubt have discussed the cancellation.

“They will also discuss the issue of the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, and guarantees from the Taliban that there will be no threat to America and other countries from Afghanistan afterwards,” he said.

Khalilzad has toured the region in recent weeks, speaking to Pakistani authorities and the Afghan government about the need for greater intra-Afghan dialogue.

His last series of discussions ended in March, and concentrated on Taliban demands for a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and a reciprocal arrangement for the Taliban not to obstruct or interfere in US interests in the country or abroad.

Analyst Waheed Mozhdah said President Donald Trump wanted to set a timetable ahead of the 2020 US presidential election for the withdrawal, in order to complete a key campaign pledge from his 2016 run to bring troops home.

But he added that talks were “complicated” because Khalilzad and the Taliban had yet to agree on a timetable themselves, with some elements of the group wanting the withdrawal announcement to come before the militants agree to a cease-fire. This, he warned, could fracture the Taliban, and create a new internal power struggle.

“There are countries who prefer a weak and divided Afghanistan, so we cannot say when there will be a deal, but even when there is a deal that will not mean restoration of stability in Afghanistan,” he told Arab News.

An envoy for Ghani hailed the latest meeting. “We welcome the start of the sixth round of talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha, and we are optimistic about it,” Umer Daudzai said.

He added that the Taliban would need to accept the recommendations of the Loya Jirga, where some 3,200 delegates are currently debating the framework for peace with the Taliban.

The group has already denounced the gathering as a “Kabul conspiracy.” Key members of Ghani’s government, as well as multiple senior political rivals, have also boycotted the it, calling it unnecessary whilst the Doha talks remain in progress. The Loya Jirga is expected to deliver its suggestions to the government on Thursday.

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