The United States pressed Afghanistan’s warring factions Saturday to approach their first-ever direct peace talks with an intent to strike a power-sharing deal that would accommodate “competing views” and permanently end decades of bloodshed in the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the remarks at a special ceremony in Doha, Qatar, marking the start of the U.S.-brokered dialogue, known as intra-Afghan negotiations, between delegates of the Taliban insurgency and the government of Afghanistan.
“Today is a truly momentous occasion. Afghans have at long last chosen to sit together and chart a new course for your country. This is a moment to dare to hope,” Pompeo said.
He cautioned that the intra-Afghan talks will “undoubtedly encounter many challenges” because of decades of divisions, but the two sides will need to “be patient” to seize the opportunity of writing the next chapter in the history of Afghanistan.
“We hope this chapter is one of reconciliation and progress, not another chronicle of tears and bloodshed. We urge you to make decisions that move you away from violence and corruption and toward peace and prosperity,” stressed Pompeo.
The chief American diplomat noted that a landmark agreement the U.S. sealed with the Taliban on February 29, set the stage for Saturday’s start of negotiations between Afghanistan’s warring parties.
While saying it was solely for Afghans to determine a future political system to govern their country, Pompeo added that he hoped the outcome of the talks would respect rights of all Afghans and protect social progress achieved over the past nearly two decades.
“As you make your decisions, you should keep in mind that your choices and conduct will affect both the size and scope of future U.S. assistance. Our hope is that you reach a sustainable peace, and our goal is an enduring partnership,” he said.
Abdullah Abdullah, the leader of the Afghan delegation, told the inaugural ceremony that his team has come to Doha with “goodwill and good intention” to negotiate with the Taliban an end to the 40 years of bloodshed.
“We have come to achieve a dignified and lasting peace. There is no winner through war or military means, but there will be no loser if this crisis is resolved through submission to the will of the people,” said Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s delegation, pledged in his speech that the insurgent negotiating team would enter the intra-Afghan dialogue “with full sincerity” and stressed the need for both sides to move forward with patience.
“We assure the world that we will strive to our utmost ability in order for the intra-Afghan negotiations to attain a successful outcome. We seek an Afghanistan that is independent, sovereign, united, developed and free – an Afghanistan with an Islamic system in which all people of the nation can participate without discrimination,” Baradar said.
Pompeo later held separate meetings with Baradar and Abdullah, where their negotiating teams also were present.
The historic Afghan talks stemmed from the U.S.-Taliban deal that seeks to have all American and coalition forces leave the country by mid-2021 in return for insurgent counterterrorism assurances and pledges to seek a political settlement between Afghan rivals.
The U.S. has cut its military presence in Afghanistan to 8,600 from roughly 13,000 personnel since signing the pact with the Taliban.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration intends to further reduce the size of U.S. forces to about 4,500 by November.
Analysts anticipate the intra-Afghan negotiations will be a long, drawn-out process and experience many controversies as they proceed.
VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.