Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government started with an opening ceremony this weekend after decades of conflict.
The talks were spurred following an agreement between the Taliban and the US that promised the withdrawal of foreign forces by May 2021 in return for the Taliban agreeing to reopen negotiations with the Afghan government.
The Taliban sent a 21-member team to Doha for the ceremony, which was headed by the group’s former shadow chief justice Mawlawi Abdul Hakim Haqqani.
The Afghan team, led by Abdullah Abdullah, sent 19 government negotiators, with representatives from different areas, ethnicities and political affiliations present.
US and Qatari officials helped to start the talks and will continue to shepherd the process along with other international powers including Germany.
The talks are expected to address the Taliban’s continuation of armed offensives against the government, despite the agreement with the US.
Those present will also discuss how the militants could be included in any governing when they have vehemently opposed the legitimacy of the Kabul government.
Safeguarding the rights of women and minorities who suffered under the previous Taliban rule will also be a big point of discussion.
US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said: ‘It took hard work and sacrifice to reach this moment, and it will require hard work and sacrifice to keep it alive and to take advantage of it so that the talks result in a durable peace.
‘I urge you to engage the representatives of all Afghan communities – including women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the victims of your country’s long war.
‘The choice of your future political system is, of course, yours to make … The United States does not seek to impose its system on others. We believe firmly that protecting the rights of all Afghans is the best way for you to break the cycle of violence.
‘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.’
Abdullah Abdullah urged everyone present to ‘seize the exceptional opportunity for peace’, saying they would ‘intermediate situations’ when they did not agree on issues.
He has called for a humanitarian ceasefire to ‘enable humanitarian aid and development programs to reach all parts of Afghanistan’.
Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said they hope the talks go ahead ‘with patience and tolerance’.
He said: ‘We want Afghanistan to be a free, independent, united and developed country, and to have an Islamic system in which all tribes and ethnicities of the country find themselves without any discrimination and live their lives in love and brotherhood.’
Representatives from Pakistan, NATO, the UN, China, Turkey, Spain, India and the EU also expressed their support for the meeting, with many highlighting the importance of safeguarding women’s rights.
Afghan women’s rights activist Mariam Atayee said: ‘I really wonder whether the Taliban have changed or not. In the Taliban negotiating team that there is not a single woman to be heard, which means that the Taliban do not believe in the participation of women and the position of women in all processes. This creates concerns for Afghan women.’
Ending America’s longest war, launched by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, is a key foreign policy objective of Donald Trump.
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