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Afghanistan at a decisive moment

Peace talks start in Doha

AT News

KABUL: Afghan government and the Taliban will finally begin peace talks on Saturday, officials and the Taliban said, seeking to iron out longstanding differences for a power-sharing settlement after years of fighting.

Afghanistan’s team flew to Doha on Friday joined by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High National Reconciliation Council. After his departure, Dr. Abdullah said he expected a dignified peace in the basis on religious tenets and shared interests.

This is the first time the government and Taliban leadership will meet face to face after an overlong release of thousands of Taliban prisoners from government prisons. The deal was reached in February between Washington and the Taliban in absence of the Afghan government. The prisoner release put Kabul government on a tight spot as it construed it as an act of relenting to a deal it never was part of.

These talks will also herald a gradual withdrawal of roughly 12,000 American troops in return for Taliban’s guarantees to reduce their attacks and avoid the country slipping into the hands of terrorist groups.

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump has touted the start of intra-Afghan talks, saying State Secretary Mike Pompeo will attend the inaugural talks. Secretary Pompeo has called the talks ‘contentious’ and yet historic, saying all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan – after being downsized to 4,500 by November – only if Taliban hold their end of the bargain to not let Afghanistan become a haven of terrorist networks including al-Qaeda.

With the fate of Afghanistan depending on it, Doha peace talks would be a testing ground for both Kabul and Taliban to try to find a compromise on crucial issues including governance, freedom of expression and the role of women and minorities. With the Taliban pushing for an emirate-style theocratic governance, it would be tricky mission for the Afghan government to convince the insurgents to accept a democratic republic government.

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