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US and Taliban resume talks in Doha; Kabul expects Qatar to use mediation to broker peace

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KABUL: Negotiations between the United States and the Taliban resumed late Sunday in Qatar – after days of discussions on next steps for peace – with Kabul pinning hopes on Qatari government to use mediation to broker peace in Afghanistan.

Deputy Spokesperson for the Presidential Palace, Dawa Khan Minapal, said Monday that any progress regarding U.S.-Taliban negotiations on ending violence and ceasefire will be shared with the Afghan government. He said the next steps for the process would be to design a practical plan for reduction of violence and announcement of ceasefire.

A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a tweet that Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani attended the meeting on Sunday – in which US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as well as Taliban’s deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mohammad Fazil, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwah, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi were also present.

The Afghan government says that it expects Qatar will use its mediation to convince the Taliban to end violence and begin intra-Afghan negotiations. Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi recently pinpointed Afghan government’s insistence that U.S.-Taliban meetings and talks in Doha should have an optimal result. “An optimal result for the people of Afghanistan is an end to violence and end to the war in Afghanistan.”

The US and the Taliban have held eleven rounds of talks since late 2018 led by chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad. The two sides are close to signing a peace deal but it awaits the Taliban’s agreement on a reduction in violence or ceasefire in Afghanistan.

Some analysts who are privy to the negotiations are jubilant that Qatar’s mediation has led the talks to a promising stage so has U.S.-Taliban eagerness to discuss a deal to be signed and a mechanism of a reduction in violence on which the Taliban has agreed after consultation with their leading military council last month.

“The Qatar foreign minister mediates the talks when there is a rift between the US and the Taliban,” said Khalilullah Safi, former head of Pugwash, an independent international organization. “Reports indicate that the Taliban has shown more flexibility – on an extended reduction in violence and intra-Afghan negotiations – but this is not final.”

“Qatar’s mediation in the talks at this stage shows progress in the process and this calls for a strengthening of relations between the Afghan and Qatari governments,” said Hussain Ehsani, an Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies researcher.

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