Wed, Jan 09, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Taliban, US to hold peace talks without Afghan government

Reuters, PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Former Taliban and Islamic State militants surrender their weapons at a reconciliation ceremony in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Afghan Taliban representatives are today to meet US officials for two days of peace talks, but they have refused to meet “puppet” Afghan government officials, senior Taliban members said.

The Taliban has rejected requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the US is its main adversary in a 17-year war.

“This time we want to hold talks with the American officials,” a Taliban leader based in Afghanistan said, adding that the talks in Qatar would involve a US withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.

The insurgents, who seek to reimpose strict Muslim law after their 2001 ouster by a US-led coalition, called off a meeting with US officials in Saudi Arabia this week because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.

The war in Afghanistan is the US’ longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington nearly US$1 trillion and killed tens of thousands of people.

The talks are to be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad.

“After mutual consultations, we are going to meet US officials in Doha on Wednesday. The meeting will continue for two days,” a senior member of the Taliban said on condition of anonymity.

Former Afghan minister of the interior Umer Daudzai, a senior adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, was yesterday to meet Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials have said that Afghanistan would need foreign economic aid for years, even after any peace agreement has been signed, and have also been trying to push the Taliban to accept talks with Kabul.

A close aide to Ghani said that the Afghan government was ready to meet the Taliban “anywhere and any time.”

“Every country involved in Afghanistan expects the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, but they have not agreed to meet us,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates took part in the previous round of talks last month.

Western diplomats based in Kabul said that Pakistan’s cooperation in the peace process would be crucial to success.

Independent security analysts and diplomats have said that the neighboring country’s powerful military has kept close ties with the Afghan Taliban.

US officials have accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to Taliban militants in its border regions and using them as an arm of its foreign policy. Pakistan has denied the claim.

Last week, Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi met Ghani in Kabul to discuss the peace process. The meeting was held after Taliban officials met with Iranian authorities in Tehran.

The US — which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of attacks on New York City and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country — withdrew most of its forces in 2014.

It has kept about 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission to aid Afghan security forces and hunt militants.

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