U.S. Envoy In Pakistan As Afghan-Taliban Talks Begin With Calls For Truce
By RFE/RL September 14, 2020
The Afghan government intensified calls for a cease-fire with the Taliban on September 14 as Kabul and the militants began the second day of historic peace talks.
Negotiations kicked off over the weekend in Qatar and are initially expected to focus on technical details such as schedules for the talks and a code of conduct, the Afghan government said.
The Afghan government and its allies, including NATO and the United States, are calling for the Taliban to agree to a truce to help advance what are expected to be long and grinding negotiations to end 19 years of conflict.
But the Taliban have not agreed to a cease-fire and have conducted near daily attacks on Afghan security forces since the United States and the militants struck an agreement in February that could see foreign troops exit Afghanistan.
The deal, which paved the way for the Qatar negotiations, did not commit the insurgents to any reduction of violence, only requiring that it be "an item on the agenda" in negotiations.
Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi tweeted September 14 that the presence of government negotiators at the talks "is aimed at achieving a cease-fire, ending the violence, and ensuring lasting peace and stability in the country."
As talks were under way in Qatar, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and a U.S. delegation visited Pakistan, a key regional power broker with sway over the Taliban.
The U.S. team met with Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Pakistan claims its influence over the Taliban is overstated, but it says it is willing to do whatever is possible for peace in Afghanistan.
A military statement said the U.S. delegation "greatly appreciated" Pakistan's role in the peace process and that "it could not have succeeded without Pakistan's sincere and unconditional support."
In 2015, Pakistan hosted the first ever face-to-face talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, but those talks collapsed when the Afghan government announced the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Since then, the United States worked with Islamabad to help convince the Taliban to meet with the U.S. and Afghan officials.
Last month, a Taliban political team led by Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited Islamabad to consult with Pakistani officials.
Pakistan freed Baradar from prison in 2018 in what was widely viewed as a coordinated move with the United States to advance U.S.-Taliban peace talks.
A comprehensive peace deal could take months or years to reach, involving other countries and the willingness of the warring sides to compromise on major sticking points and share power.
The Taliban have long been concerned that reducing violence levels could decrease their negotiating leverage, but heightened violence also risks derailing talks in their early stages.
The U.S.-backed negotiations are already taking place six months later than planned due to disagreements over a controversial prisoner swap and ongoing violence.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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