Historic Talks to Begin between Taliban, Afghan Govt

Afghanistan's government and the Taliban will meet for peace talks in Doha on Saturday in an attempt to end almost two decades of conflict, although a rapid settlement seems impossible.   

The US-backed talks come six months later than expected due to bitter disputes over the contentious prisoner swap negotiated in February, reports AFP. 

Talks will begin a day after the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that led the US to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban regime that had sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"How to move their country forward to minimize violence and deliver what the Afghan people are demanding — a reconciled Afghanistan with a government that represents a nation that is not at war," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will attend the opening of the talks.

President Donald Trump, who will be re-elected in November, has worked hard to end America's longest war and wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan by next year.

A substantive peace agreement may take years, and it will rely on the ability of both sides to adapt their conflicting visions for the country.

The Taliban, who declined to accept the government of President Ashraf Ghani, would pressure Afghanistan to reshape the Islamic "Emirates."

The Ghani administration would aim to preserve the Western-backed status quo of a constitutional republic that has enshrined many rights, including greater freedoms for women.

Ending the war 

"My beard was black when the war began, it is snow white now and we are still in war," said Kabul resident Obaidullah, 50.

"I don't believe the war will end that soon, I am sceptical about the talks because both sides want their full agenda and their system enforced," added the retired civil servant.

Many Afghans believe that any return of the Taliban to power — partial or full — could lead to the return of Islamic Sharia law.

In February, the insurgents claimed victory after signing a qatari-mediated agreement with Washington, which set a timetable for talks.

Qatar has secretly led diplomatic efforts that have been hampered by instability in Afghanistan and the coronavirus crisis, with Doha's chief negotiator, Mutlaq al-Qahtani, emphasizing "the strength of diplomacy" on Thursday.

Doha welcomed the Taliban to open a political office in 2013 and helped negotiate a February withdrawal agreement between Washington and the Taliban.

The arrangement led to tense moments like when the Taliban raised their flag above the building, sparking anger in Kabul.

On Friday, two Afghan national flags were brought to the Doha Luxury Hotel, which will host the talks as the turban Taliban lined up alongside the media and caterers to carry out coronavirus tests ahead of the gathering.


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