Friday, 15 February, 2019

Taliban, US to sit down to peace talks

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani addresses a conference on security in West Asia in Tehran Taliban, US to sit down to peace talks
Melinda Barton | 10 January, 2019, 17:35

Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011.

Sources inside Pakistani government said President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan spoke highly of Pakistan's efforts to bring peace in the war-torn country and sought Prime Minister Imran Khan's help to broker direct talks with the Taliban as well as inclusion of Afghanistan in ongoing talks between the U.S. and Taliban. "The meeting will continue for two days - Wednesday and Thursday", said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban on condition of anonymity.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that it is impossible to have a future Afghan government without a role for the Taliban.

A separate tweet from the US embassy in the Afghan capital stressed that intra-Afghan talks were "essential" to settling the conflict.

It would have been the fourth round of talks between the Taliban and the United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, in recent months.

In line with these efforts, the Afghan President's special envoy Umer Daudzai is in a four-day visit in Islamabad where he has met with Pakistani officials and he will hold other meetings in the coming days we well.

When asked if a meeting this week between United States officials and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia would take place, Daudzai said: "Unless they [Taliban] agree to meet with the Afghan government face to face, that kind of meetings may be hard to be continued".

The war in Afghanistan is America's longest overseas military intervention. It has cost Washington almost a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.

India would like to hear from Khalilzad progress and nature of talks with Taliban besides President Donald Trump's decision to reduce USA troops in Afghanistan by half.

"The US officials insisted that the Taliban should meet the Afghan authorities in Qatar and both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019", a foreign agency quoted a Taliban source as saying.

"Both sides have agreed to not meet in Qatar".

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier the two sides were still working on the technical details and were not clear on the agenda for the talks. It has committed about $3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Taliban regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"This time we want to hold talks with the American officials", said a Taliban leader based in Afghanistan, adding that they would discuss a United States withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of their leaders.

"We would never announce any ceasefire until and unless we achieve major gains on the ground". "If President Trump had made such announcement in 2012, it might have caused some worries but now we have well-trained Afghan National Security Forces".

The Taliban have repeatedly rejected to hold talks on peace with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

The US still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.

To a question, Daudzai denied that the withdrawal of USA troops from Afghanistan will have a serious impact on the security situation. As peace talks gain momentum a draft agreement drawn up by the influential U.S. think tank RAND Corporation outlining the clauses for a potential peace deal has been circulated among Afghan officials and diplomats in Kabul.

The document, reviewed by Reuters, suggests that the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation withdraw their military missions in phases over an expected period of 18 months, but the United States may continue providing civilian assistance. "But if that leadership of the Afghan state is not recognized and is not given value, then we may face a serious challenge", he added.

In July, Iranian authorities said Tehran had rejected eight US requests for a meeting between Trump and President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in Sept 2017.