ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s warring sides have agreed to open long-awaited peace talks in Qatar, possibly later this month, to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire and political settlement to years of conflict in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Taliban insurgency on Sunday confirmed to VOA the breakthrough development but did not say when will the dialogue begin.
An Afghan government source told VOA that President Ashraf Ghani has accepted a Qatari government proposal for hosting the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, the gulf state’s capital, where the Islamist Taliban maintains its political office.
“The Afghan government has only agreed for a first meeting to take place in Doha, there has not been any agreement yet on the venue of the direct talks,” Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted Sunday.
Qatar also hosted the Taliban’s talks with the United States that led to the February 29 landmark agreement between the two adversaries aimed at ending the nearly 19-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest. The pact required Afghan parties to the conflict to open peace negotiations to permanently end decades of hostilities in the country.
“Yes, I confirm that the upcoming intra-Afghan talks will be held in Doha following the release of our prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s Doha office, told VOA.
Under tenets of the U.S.-Taliban pact, the Afghan government is required to free up to 5,000 insurgent prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security personnel being held by the Taliban.
Kabul has already set free 3,000 inmates, with Ghani promising last week to let go the remaining 2,000 “within a very short period.”
The Taliban has so far released fewer than 600 detainees and it is committed under the agreement with the U.S. to participate in intra-Afghan talks within one week of the prisoner swap.
Meanwhile, Afghan officials alleged Sunday while speaking to reporters in Kabul that increased Taliban attacks across the country have “killed and injured” more than 400 government security forces in the last week alone.
They also accused the insurgents of playing a role in recent mosque bombings that killed high-profile Afghan clerics.
The Taliban has denied involvement in the mosque bombings but the group has taken credit for launching attacks against Afghan forces, saying the battlefield cease-fire would be on the agenda when both sides come to the negotiating table.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement binds Washington to withdraw from Afghanistan all American troops, its allies, and coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within 14 months. The U.S. military has already pulled out several thousand troops from the country since sealing the deal.
In return, the Taliban is bound to prevent terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State from using insurgent-held Afghan areas for attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
U.S. officials maintain, however, their troop drawdown process would be “conditions-based” and they would be closely monitoring whether the Taliban is upholding its commitments outlined in the agreement.
President Donald Trump has promised repeatedly to bring all American forces back home reportedly as early as by the U.S. presidential election.
“It is not the duty of the U.S. military to solve ancient conflicts in far away lands, that many people have never heard of… When we fight, from now on, we will only fight to win,” Trump said on Saturday in a commencement address to graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.