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US, Taliban peace talks to conclude on Thursday

What they are discussing

By Mansoor Faizy

KABUL: Delegations from U.S. and the Taliban group are in talks in Doha of Qatar with an aim to reach a negotiated settlement to the more than 17-year of war—and these attempts are gathering pace.

There had been several rounds of talk, but this time, which is fifth round, has already generated hopes among the Afghan masses to find a logical end to the Afghan conflict as Taliban entered in talks with more authority this time.

The cofounder of the Taliban group, and head of Qatar’s Political Office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is leading the talks with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the two are meeting for the first time.   

This is the highest-level of negotiations yet between American peace envoy and Taliban member that have raised hope of progress toward ending the longstanding conflict that civilians have been the worst victims with highest record of casualty.

According latest UN Report, more civilians were killed last year than at any time since records have been kept. The agency documented 3,804 civilian deaths in 2018. Among the dead were 927 children, the highest recorded number of boys and girls killed in the conflict during a single year.

In total, UNAMA documented 10,993 civilian casualties (3,804 deaths and 7,189 injured), representing a five per cent increase in overall civilian casualties and an 11 per cent increase in civilian deaths compared to 2017.

This highlights importance of peace to be prevailed in the country in immediate move, and all hopes pinned in the US, Taliban talks to be proved as a turning point.

More excitement is as the Taliban says in fresh round of talks which began on Monday, their representatives and US delegation will try to prepare the draft of the agreement in the talks which mainly focused on withdrawal of foreign troops and not usage of Afghan soil against foreign countries in the future by terrorist groups.

During last meeting, US envoy said they have reached agreement on principle, and this time they will focus on fleshing out the details of that framework agreement.

Taliban’s spokesman for their Qatar Political Office, Sohail Shaeen, unveiled the fresh round of talks which kicked off on Monday and will last till Thursday, 28 of this month the two sides will try to make progress on the main topics of the discussion.

With participation of Mullah Baradar, indeed Khalilzad has made remarkable progress in the recent peace push with indication from Taliban group that they are no more interested in fighting.

They already showed willingness to cut any kind of relations with other terrorist groups including al-Qaeda terrorist network. This is an astonishing point, moreover, when they said to allow women and girls to exercise their basic rights to participate in every walks of society, made Afghans more optimistic. However, still women fear of losing their past hard gained achievements, emphasizing in its preservation. Women and girls had gone through worst kind of situation during Taliban regime that even today after 18-year badly hurting them. They are right on their stance, and Afghanistan has been changed a lot in these years and the betterment could not be possible without women’s firm cooperation.

To preserve the achievements, the National Unity Government is exercising extreme caution with any sorts of deal with Taliban group. President Ashraf Ghani constantly backed intra-Afghan talks, and appreciated US efforts for peace at the same time, but said the executive power is with government alone. With this, nothing could impose on Afghans, even US envoy Khalilzad favored safeguarding past achievements.

Ambassador Khalilzad time and again said there is no deal on anything until everything is agreed and with current peace talks they are now closer to that starting line to possibly pave ways for an agreement.

Optimistically, Khalilzad and Baradar likely confront on several issues, including supporting the current system and the country’s security forces—where Abbas Stanikzai had earlier talked about its disintegration that faced hard criticism from Afghan people and the government. Moreover to agree for a complete ceasefire that paves ground for a direct talk with Afghan government. Truce and intra-Afghan talks is the only way, even according to American officials, that would lead to any deal over US withdrawal.

The positive churn out is that Khalilzad is sitting with Baradar, the Taliban’s number two member that likely give the group upper hand in decision-making as it was lacking in the past 4-round of talks.

Mr. Mansoor Ahmad Faizy is Editor-in-Chief in Afghanistan Times Daily, and a member of Rana Think Tank. You can follow him on twitter @Mansoorfaizy001

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