The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad on Monday held an introductory meeting with senior Taliban officials including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s number two and head of the group’s office in Qatar.
According to Khalilzad, the talks on peace will kick off after this meeting. “Just finished a working lunch with Mullah Baradar and his team. First time we’ve met. Now moving on to talks,” Khalilzad tweeted on Monday afternoon.
“Arrived in #Doha to meet with a more authoritative Taliban delegation. This could be a significant moment. Appreciate #Qatar for hosting & #Pakistan in facilitating travel. Now the work begins in earnest,” Khalilzad tweeted.
The main topics of the talks would be the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, ensuring that Afghanistan’s territory is not used as a threat against any other country, a comprehensive ceasefire and direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, according to President Ghani’s spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri.
Sources close to the Taliban said the group will likely refrain talking on other issues if the two sides do not reach a conclusion about the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
The sources said that the US and Taliban negotiators will discuss the outcome of the work of their working groups.
The working groups from the two sides will share their assessment about two issues including the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and the assurance that no threat will be posed from the Afghan soil against any other country. According to sources, to convince the Taliban for a ceasefire and face-to-face talks with the Afghan government, the two sides should first agree on the two issues.
“Ceasefire and the release of prisoners are marginal issues. I don’t think that they will talk about other issues unless there is clarity on the withdrawal of foreign forces,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban member.
But, officials from the High Peace Council (HPC) said the Taliban will not be able to achieve their objectives unless the group endorses negotiations with the Afghan government.
“All demands the Taliban has will be addressed through an intra-Afghan dialogue,” said Abdul Khabir Ochqon, deputy head of HPC.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said at the Council of Ministers’ meeting that Taliban’s denial to engage in talks with the Afghan government is a major obstruction on the way of peace in the country.
“So far, the Taliban has not been ready to talk with the government of Afghanistan. We also have the responsibility to remove the hurdles from the way of peace talks, in areas which are relevant to us. Still, lack of Taliban’s honest preparation for direct talks [with the Afghan government] is a key barrier [to the peace process],” Abdullah said as he addressed the weekly meeting of the Council of Minister.
Abdullah, however, mentioned that if the issue is about how to negotiate with government and with which type of a team, then “we should be flexible”.
The Afghan women who passed through severe restrictions under the Taliban regime have been constantly calling for a constructive role in the peace process with the resurgent group.
“Unfortunately, no woman is taking part in this meeting. Even in other formal talks, women are not present,” said Habiba Sarabi, deputy head of the HPC.
Leading the Taliban delegation in Doha this time is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban who was released last year from a Pakistani prison.
Baradar’s presence in Doha and his lead role in the talks with Khalilzad is considered important because of his important role within the Taliban.
Since his appointment in September 2018, Khalilzad has traveled to various countries in the region and Europe where he has stressed the need for ending the conflict in Afghanistan through diplomatic means.