Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

Taliban talks with US resume in Qatar

It comes three months after President Trump abruptly halted diplomatic efforts to end America's longest war

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. AP
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. AP

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held on Saturday the first official talks with Afghanistan's Taliban since President Donald Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September.

The talks, held in the Qatari capital, Doha, will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a US statement. Mr Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.

In September, the United States and the Taliban had appeared on the verge of signing a deal that would have seen Washington begin withdrawing thousands of troops in return for security guarantees.

It was also expected to pave the way towards direct talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul and, ultimately, a possible peace agreement after more than 18 years of war. The Taliban have until now refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime.

But that same month, Trump abruptly called the year-long effort "dead" and withdrew an invitation to the insurgents to join secret talks at his US retreat at Camp David after the killing of an American soldier.

During a surprise visit to a US military base in Afghanistan last week, Mr Trump said the Taliban "wants to make a deal."

The talks come after Mr Khalilzad visited the Afghan capital Kabul on Wednesday to launch an "accelerated effort" to get Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict to the negotiation table to plot a roadmap to a post-war Afghanistan.

He met with several Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, who repeated his call for a cease-fire.

Hekmat Karzai, chairman of the Kabul-based Center for Conflict and Peace Studies, tweeted photographs of his meeting on Wednesday with Mr Khalilzad in Kabul, saying they "spoke about the way forward."

Washington had sought to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of September's elections in Afghanistan. But the Afghan government is now embroiled in a fresh elections standoff. Presidential polls on September 28 again ended in accusations of misconduct, with no results yet announced.

Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Ghani’s main rival and the country’s chief executive, challenged the recounting of several hundred thousand ballots, accusing the president of trying to manipulate the tally.

While Mr Khalilzad is talking to the Taliban about reducing violence, the US military in its daily report said overnight on Saturday US air strikes killed 37 Taliban and operations by the Afghan National Security Forces killed another 22 of the militants.

The insurgents have continued to carry out near daily strikes against military outposts throughout the country. They now hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan.

Mr Trump has expressed frustration with America's longest war repeatedly saying he wants to bring the estimated 12,000 US soldiers home and calling on Afghanistan's own police and military to step up. The Afghan government has also been criticised for its relentless corruption.

Updated: December 7, 2019 05:29 PM

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