Afghan peace talks resume in Doha as US examines deal with Taliban

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government do not resume in Doha after weeks of delays and changes in US diplomatic direction.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have resumed in the Qatari capital, Doha, after weeks of delays, escalating violence and a change in US diplomatic leadership at the start of the Biden administration.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem on Monday evening tweeted the resumption of talks, which were the result of an agreement between the Afghan armed group and the United States in February 2020.

But President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal, which aimed to end the longest war the United States has waged. The Taliban have been fighting the combined forces of the West-backed Kabul government and foreign troops since their overthrow in a US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The Taliban last week in an open letter called on the United States to fully implement the Doha deal, including the withdrawal of all international troops, saying they are committed to its side. of the deal – to secure US security interests in this war-torn country. .

Set the agenda

There were no details on the talks except for an announcement that the first item on the agenda would be to set the agenda.

When the talks ended abruptly in January, days after they began, both sides submitted their wishlists for agendas they now have to sift through to agree on negotiating points and order in which they will be addressed.

The priority for the Afghan government, Washington and NATO is a serious reduction in violence that can lead to a ceasefire, the Taliban have so far resisted any immediate ceasefire.

Washington is reviewing the Doha peace deal the previous Trump administration signed with the Taliban as consensus grows in Washington that an extension of the withdrawal deadline is needed. The Taliban have resisted suggestions for even a brief extension.

It has been suggested that a small intelligence-based force remains behind that would focus almost exclusively on ‘counterterrorism’ and an increasingly active and deadly branch of ISIL (ISIS) in the east. from Afghanistan.

But neither Washington nor NATO have yet announced a decision on the fate of around 10,000 foreign soldiers, including 2,500 American soldiers, still stationed in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that transatlantic alliance troops would not withdraw from Afghanistan “until the time is right,” adding that the Taliban must do more to comply. the terms of the agreement with the United States.

Political solution

The Biden administration, which has focused on a political solution to the protracted conflict, retained the services of US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the US deal with the Taliban but has so far avoided any definitive statement on the way forward in Afghanistan.

The resumption of talks in Doha follows rampant diplomatic activity, including reaching out to Pakistani officials and its powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Pakistan is seen as key to bringing the Taliban back to the negotiating table, and it can use its influence to pressure the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan.

Last week, the head of the US Central Command, General Kenneth F. McKenzie, was in Islamabad, as were the Afghan envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zamir Kabulov and the special envoy of the Qatari Foreign Ministry, Mutlaq. Bin Majed Al Qahtani.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s special envoy Umar Daudzai is due in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Although details of the meetings were sketchy, Afghanistan featured prominently and officials familiar with the talks said a reduction in violence and a possible ceasefire dominated discussions.

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