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Fifth round of US-Taliban talks concluded to what?

By Mansoor Faizy and Farhad Naibkhel

KABUL: It took 16-day for the chief American peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to finally ink or at least come to a conclusion to some points with the Taliban group—while some officials casted doubt over the success of the meetings—although huge progress had been claimed—and the Afghan officials welcomed Taliban’s clear stance to cut ties with other terrorist outfits.

Some American officials said they are very near to a final agreement to find a logical end to the Afghan conflict. However, the framework for ending the war is yet to be chalked out as everything is in the paper so far.

Soon after meeting called off, US peace envoy Khalilzad and Taliban group released statements, which were contradictory to each other.

The conditions for peace have improved, Khalilzad said. “It’s clear all sides want to end the war. Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides.”

Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire. In January talks, we “agreed in principle” on these four elements. We’re now “agreed in draft” on the first two, he said in tweet message.

When the agreement in draft about a withdrawal timeline and effective counterterrorism measures is finalized, the Taliban and other Afghans, including the government, will begin intra-Afghan negotiations on a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire, he added.

He said his next step is discussions in Washington and consultations with other partners. “We will meet again soon, and there is no final agreement until everything is agreed.”

However, Taliban group in a statement said extensive and detailed discussions took place regarding two issues that were agreed upon during January talks.

“Those two issues were the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing anyone from harming others from Afghan soil; how and when will all foreign forces exit Afghanistan and through what method? Similarly, how will the United States and her allies be given assurances about future Afghanistan?

Taliban said progress was achieved regarding both these issues. “For now, both sides will deliberate over the achieved progress, share it with their respective leaderships and prepare for the upcoming meeting, the date of which shall be set by both negotiation teams.

The Taliban clearly said no agreement was reached regarding a ceasefire and talks with the Kabul administration, nor were other issues made a part of the current agenda.

This has raised many eyebrows that why two statements from one meeting, have inconsistent words.

But, US State Department not only hailed the just-concluded negotiations between US and Taliban as the most substantive talks to date, but termed it significant progress.

 “We’ve received reports back from Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad that they’ve had meaningful progress,” the department’s deputy spokesman said on Tuesday.

Robert Palladino told a news conference in Washington the Taliban had agreed that peace would require both sides to fully address four core issues: counterterrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire.

However, still difference in statements that came out from US and Taliban on Doha meeting is confusing. But one thing is clear that only intra-Afghan dialogue is the core way to get rids of current war in the country. The last Moscow peace talks with the first intra-Afghan talks, where Taliban met with many Afghan influential figures with achievements at hand. Next round of talks could be held soon as it was expected to hold at end of this month, but it has been delayed.

One thing is much more clear that peace talks must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. In a gathering President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday “we want peace but a durable one.”

Ghani insisted over Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, saying “we will go toward peace with measured through people demands and expectation.”

He also called on people to actively take part in Consultative Loya Jirga for peace to be held on 29 April. The participants of the Jira, where 30 percent of them would be women, are going to elucidate red lines in talks with the Taliban group.

There is an environment of optimism over progress made between US and Taliban, said Political Pundit Mr. Misbah Ullah, but asked for clarity of the nature of peace.

“Afghan nation is the most important segment to be aware of any sort of peace, so they must be clearly aware of any progress in the talks.”

Secret or behind closed door peace talks is a big mistake, he said, asking on stakeholders to share each and every steps with the Afghan masses in a bid to have their own views and votes in the aspect for further success of the process.

Peace is needed, and it is a dream of all Afghans, he said. “In peace talks and after it, no segment of our society be excluded from government, everyone must see themselves involved in the system to have a successful and lasting peace.”

He also emphasized over perseveration of past-hard gained achievements. “Moreover, peace should not be sacrificed for powers, and real steps must be held for peace.”

This round was all about US and Taliban issues, said another political analyst Mohammad Natiqi, who says the 16 consecutive days were only focused on topics related to US and Taliban.

According to Natiqi the next round of talks would be between Kabul administration and Taliban group.

Obviously, intra-Afghan dialogue is the most important element in the peace talks which is still missed, he said, adding, this phase must be kicked off in nearest time.

Moreover, he put intra-Afghan talks as the most complicated phase, where many things are going to be talked over.

He also suggested quadrilateral talks to part of intra-Afghan talks instead of mutual. “Not only government, but other influential officials, including political parties must be involved in talks with Taliban.”

Indeed, there are many issues to be resolved between Kabul administration and Taliban group. At this stage, Taliban time and again rejected talks with government which requires an immediate solution to it.

Any other possible ways which is acceptable choose for face-to-face talks with Taliban must be applied. Afghanistan going through its crucial period and this opportunity must not be lost. When US made its mind for responsible pullout, so it is imperative for the Afghan government to clasp the opportunity and leave no stone unturned to be part of sixth round of talks.

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