Afghan rivals conclude talks for peace

Afghan rivals conclude talks for peace

Doha: Dozens of powerful Afghans concluded two-days of talks with the Taliban on Monday in Doha, laying the foundations for renewed negotiations between the US and the militants.

The encounter ended with a joint statement containing an “appeal and promise to reduce violence in Afghanistan”, according to Markus Potzel, Germany’s Afghanistan envoy who co-hosted the talks with Qatar.

The gathering will be followed by the resumption of direct US-Taliban contact also in Doha on Tuesday as both sides eye a resolution to the bloody 18-year conflict.

Washington has said it wants to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of Afghan presidential polls due in September to allow foreign forces to begin to withdraw.

Around 70 delegates attended the gathering at a luxury hotel in Doha and the large meeting room erupted into applause after the statement had been read out.

“The differences is almost so narrow… we are quite frankly surprised how serious both sides are and they are so committed to putting an end to this conflict,” said Qatar’s counter-terrorism special envoy Mutlaq al-Qahtani.

The so-called intra-Afghan meetings follow six days of direct US-Taliban talks that were put on hold for the two-day Afghan conference and are set to resume Tuesday, according to both sides.

US lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said Saturday that the latest round of US-Taliban talks “have been the most productive of the rounds we’ve had with the Talibs”.

“We want a stable Afghanistan,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the dialogue on Monday.

“Afghans meeting with the Taliban was a big success.” The Taliban said they were “happy with progress”.

The United States did not participate directly in the two-day Afghan summit, which was attended by political heavyweights, government officials and at least six women.

The Taliban, who have steadfastly refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, only took part in a “personal capacity”.

Ghani’s administration, which the Taliban consider a puppet regime, has also been excluded from the direct US-Taliban talks.

Sunday and Monday’s gathering was the third such meeting following landmark summits in Moscow in February and May.

An agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars — a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.

The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.

But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Ghani’s administration remain unresolved.

The Taliban, believing they have the upper hand in the war, have kept up attacks even while talking to the United States and agreeing to the Afghan dialogue.

A Taliban car bomb in eastern Afghanistan killed at least 12 people and wounded scores more on Sunday, officials said.

Despite the violence, both the Taliban and US have been positive about their engagement. (AFP)