The United States peace negotiators led by the special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and senior members of the Taliban in Doha on Tuesday focused on withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, sources familiar with the talks said.
This round of talks has been labelled as critical as the two sides will bargain over a potential agreement on the timeline of US forces withdrawal from Afghanistan. The meeting this time is with a more authoritative Taliban delegation as Khalilzad mentioned in a tweet on Monday, pointed at the presence of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s deputy leader and head of their Qatar office, in the fifth round of the Doha talks.
Taliban has said its chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai is leading the negotiations and they will consult Ghani Baradar during the talks when needed.
“Today, from early morning, the working groups worked on two topics which include the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and the assurance that no threat will be staged from Afghanistan’s territory against other countries,” said Wahid Muzhdah, a political affairs analyst in Kabul. “The working groups will present the outcome of their work on Thursday to the general meeting where it will take the shape of a draft and will be announced then.”
The Afghan government welcomed the flexibility which has been noted in Taliban’s hardline approach, reiterating the call on the group to endorse an intra-Afghan dialogue by talking with government.
“The Taliban has come up with some flexibility in talks with our international partners. We hope that Taliban will adopt same flexible tone in talking with the Afghan government,” said Omid Maisam, deputy spokesman to Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
But, a member of government’s negotiating team, Abdul Hakim Munib, said that no agreement with the Taliban will be implemented unless the Afghan government is involved in the process.
“These talks will not yield any result without the engagement of the Afghan government; therefore, Afghans need to sit together,” said Munib.
Taliban and the US at this round of talks are expected to hold discussions on some key issues including the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, assurance that Afghanistan’s territory will not be used against any other country, ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Regional Approach Towards Peace
The Taliban who has been fighting against the Afghan government and its foreign allies have constantly said that they will never talk to the government in Kabul while they brand it as “puppet” administration.
But, aside from what the group wants to say when it comes to negotiations with the Afghan government, there is a perception in Afghanistan that Taliban has not enough freedom to engage in intra-Afghan talks due to the regional influence on the group.
A senior official in Afghanistan’s southeastern Paktia province said Taliban is “not independent” in the talks with the US and that some countries in the region are leading their negotiations.
“Taliban cannot make a decision without consultation with Pakistan, Iran and Russia,” Paktia Governor Shamim Katawazai said. “Why Taliban is not talking to the Afghan government if they are sovereign?” he asked.
Security officials in Paktia said last week that military operations will be ramped up against Taliban hideouts in the southeast regions of Afghanistan.
Women Fear a Comeback by Taliban
As talks to end Afghanistan’s long war gather fresh momentum over the past few months, women in the war-ravaged country who have suffered massively at the height of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan have persistently warned all sides in the conflict about making a deal on their rights and the gains the country has made in strides towards democracy.
Kawita Siddiqi, a woman rights activist in the western Nimroz province, on Tuesday said Afghan women will never accept a deal on their rights and that the peace process will not hold weight without presence of women.
“There is discrimination against women but despite that the achievements on women’s rights over the past 18 years have been considerable; therefore, they should be maintained and supported,” she said.