Afghan peace talks resume

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After their refusal to meet the US delegation in Pakistan, Afghan Taliban on Monday resumed their peace talks with Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar and agreed to meet again today (Tuesday).

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed the meeting with chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and other US officials in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

Zalmay Khalilzad had arrived in Pakistan last week on a five-day visit and was desperate for his meeting with Taliban leaders in Islamabad. According to sources, Pakistani authorities made efforts to convince members of the Afghan Taliban to meet with the US delegation in Islamabad. Also, Pakistan reportedly wanted Afghan Taliban to let the Afghan government join the peace negotiations.

Taliban refused to send their representatives to Pakistan for meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad. As usual, the Taliban also rejected inclusion of the Afghan government in the peace talks.

Zalmay Khalilzad was ready to extend his stay in Islamabad in the hope that Taliban would agree to send their representatives to Pakistan for meeting with him. He finally left Pakistan on Sunday night for Doha, Qatar.

Taliban sources said they started the meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad and other US officials in Doha at 10:00am (Qatar time).

Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement to confirm the resumption of talks with US. “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The session will also continue tomorrow (Tuesday),” said the Taliban spokesman.

Taliban sources said issues that remained incomplete in their last meeting in Abu Dhabi in December 2018 were discussed in Doha.

The sources said the Taliban gave the assurance to US officials that Afghanistan would never be used against any other country in future.

“We repeated our demand for withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan,” said one Taliban leader.

According to Taliban sources, the US delegation reiterated its demand that Taliban agree to include the Afghan government in peace talks. But Taliban again rejected the demand.

Taliban said they asked the Americans to agree to exchange of prisoners first and then discuss other issues like lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders. According to Taliban sources, Zalmay Khalilzad had earlier refused to meet Taliban’s Qatar-based Political Commission members, arguing that they were powerless to make certain decisions.

“We told him (Zalmay Khalilzad) that you too proved powerless to make decisions. We told him that first you made a commitment to discuss major issues and agreed to exchange prisoners. And then all of a sudden you started making some unrealistic demands including a ceasefire and unconditional release of US professor Kevin King,” said one Taliban leader privy to the ongoing negotiations.

Taliban last week postponed peace talks with the US after the Americans sought the release of a US professor and demanded the Taliban to announce a ceasefire.

“The US backtracked from its earlier commitment and asked us to first release the American professor whom we kidnapped after an attack on American University in Kabul and announce a ceasefire,” claimed a Taliban leader.

Kevin King was kidnapped at gunpoint from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul alongside his Australian colleague Timothy in August 2016. The Taliban have said King is seriously ill. A previous Taliban comment said that he requires hospital treatment for his heart disease.

On Saturday, Khalilzad tweeted that while “the US wants peace” and it was “urgent that fighting end.” “But pursuing peace still means we fight as needed,” he added.

Senior Taliban officials claimed that when they agreed to engage in peace talks last year, US officials told the group three major issues would be discussed including the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, prisoner swap and lifting the ban on the movement of Taliban leaders. They claimed in the Abu Dhabi meeting, the Americans instead called for the release of the American professor and an “unconditional” ceasefire to end the 18-year-long war.

The talks in Abu Dhabi involved Saudi, Pakistani and Emirati officials along with the Taliban and the US.

Tweeting after the latest round of talks in the United Arab Emirates last month, Khalilzad said that the negotiations had been “productive.”

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