Afghan officials, members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Taliban representatives and those of other warring factions, and independent experts are gathering in Qatar's capital, Doha, for "an inter-Afghan dialogue" beginning Saturday.
Two days of what are described as “open discussions” are aimed at finding ways to narrow differences between President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government and the Taliban. An Afghan expert who is attending the talks in the Gulf told VOA the goal is to enable direct negotiations by reducing the gap separating the two sides' positions.
The analyst, who asked not to be identified, said the parties meeting in Qatar would exchange proposals to encourage peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban. The meetings are being organized by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international group, in collaboration with the United Nations.
However, the analyst added, officials of the Kabul government at the Qatar discussions are there only in a personal capacity, not directly representing the government.
A Taliban spokesman told VOA that the group decided to attend the Qatar discussions after it was agreed they would not be considered peace talks.
Ghani said Thursday during an official trip to India that he was ready to speak to the Taliban and allow them to take part in national politics within the framework of the constitution of Afghanistan.
"Anyone who has a political reason for being against our government must enter the political process," Ghani was quoted as saying by Afghan Tolo television.
The Taliban contends no peace talks with Kabul will be possible until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan. The group has ignored Ghani's previous calls for peace talks, and its fighters are pressing their annual spring offensive across Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told VOA that an eight-member Afghan Taliban delegation led by a senior official, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, would take part in the Qatar discussions. In a Pashto-language statement sent by email, he said delegations from other countries would also be attending the talks in an unofficial capacity.
The spokesman said Taliban participation “does not mean it is engaging in any peace talks” with the Kabul government. He emphasized that point had been made clear to the organizers, and they accepted it.
The Pugwash Conferences group, based in Canada with branch offices in Switzerland, Britain, Italy and the United States, has organized peace conferences on many world conflicts since it was founded in 1957, and it is linked to national organizations in more than 20 other countries. The group and its founder, Joseph Rotblat, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.