By Mujeeb R. Awrang
KABUL: The first-ever peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have begun in Doha, Qatar, after months of marathon negotiations and painstaking international efforts. A historic negotiation that offers the best chance for peace after decades of wars is underway, with myriad of differences to be ironed out and compromises to be reached on crucial issues. The talks opened on Saturday designed to come up with a power-sharing settlement between warring sides in Afghanistan. The Afghans after decades of war, are now have more reason to remain optimistic on the process. They are suffering from this deadly war on daily basis. Just recently, over 20 civilians in downtown of Kabul city were killed in a blast. Over 40 others wounded in the blast targeted Amrullah Saleh, the first vice president. He is an anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan face. He survived it with slight injuries at left hand. No group claimed responsibility. But since the day of negotiations (Saturday), the Taliban staged attacks on 18 provinces. Balkh, Jawzjan, Faryab, Ghor, Badghis Herat, Ghazni and Uruzgan are the provinces that had most of these attacks, according to the ministry of defense. Despite the fragility, the Afghans must dare to hope for a peaceful future. Taliban had freed 22 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province as part of a goodwill gesture.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, has asked for a humanitarian ceasefire in his opening ceremony. But the Taliban deputy leader insisted on formation of Islamic government. The issue of truce could be on the agenda of the talks, according to the Taliban. Newly appointed Taliban’s Spokesman in Qatar, who replaced Suhail Shaheen, says releasing 7,000 to 8,000 Taliban prisoners would be key issue in the discussions. No words of ceasefire, the real demand of the Afghans. But says ceasefire will be part of it, an almost second priority. Based on reports, Afghan and Taliban delegates held meeting behind closed doors, but Abdullah in a press conference in Doha on Sunday, said he did not meet Taliban negotiating leader. “The start of peace talks itself is a very historical step, but can’t resolve all the issues straightaway,” he said. More than 12,000 Afghan civilians were killed and around 15,000 others wounded since US-Taliban deal hammered out on February in Doha. Afghans expect violence reduction, Abdullah says, adding victory through war is not possible.
The US hoped intra-Afghan talks would start within two weeks on February after peace deal with Taliban, acknowledging a peaceful settlement after nearly two decades of military measures. The agreement called for direct Afghan-to-Afghan talks that delayed almost seven months due to controversial prisoner swap process. Freeing prisoners by both sides was taken as a sign of good faith ahead of the talks.
The US point man on peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, who invested a year and a half negotiating with the Taliban to convince them for the intra-Afghan talks, with several foreign trips aimed regional consensus on the Afghan peace process, called intra-Afghan talks a historic opportunity for peace.
However, as the talks begin, there are different issues that already separated the two sides; mistrust is also so deep that even Abdullah failed to meet Mullah Baradar.