US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Afghan government negotiators met in Doha on Friday before pledging to hold lengthy and difficult peace talks with the Taliban after 19 years of war.
Afghan negotiations, which began on Saturday, were originally scheduled to begin in March, but have been pushed back repeatedly due to disputes over a prisoner exchange that included the release of hundreds of veteran Taliban fighters.
“After continued efforts by the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to open direct talks with the Taliban, the IRA peace negotiating team left Kabul for Doha,” Nader Naderi, a member of the negotiating team, said on Twitter.
US President Donald Trump has made ending American engagement in Afghanistan a foreign policy priority as he faces uncertain prospects in the November 3rd election.
Pompeo arrived in Doha on Friday before the opening session represented a “historic” opportunity to end America’s longest war.
“I know how difficult these talks will be among Afghans, but it’s up to them,” he told reporters on board his flight to the Qatari capital.
Abdul Hafiz Mansour, a member of the Kabul delegation, said his message to the Taliban was that they “cannot succeed by force”.
“The time is now ready for a reconciliation. We can solve our problems by talking to each other,” said Mansour.
– “Desperate for Peace” –
Negotiations across Afghanistan have raised hopes that the conflict may stall.
“We are desperate for peace. The killing of Afghans should be stopped,” said Kabul shopkeeper Abdullah, who lost a relative in a bomb attack on Vice President Amrullah Saleh earlier this week.
“I’m not very optimistic about the future, but peace talks are a good first step to at least reduce violence.”
The announcement of the start of peace talks came Thursday, just hours after a final hurdle – the fate of a group of Taliban prisoners, including those who murdered French and Australian civilians and troops – appeared to have been resolved.
Two Taliban prisoners who murdered the French woman Bettina Goislard, a UN refugee worker, were released in Wardak province.
Six other terrorists, including two who had killed French and Australian soldiers, were brought to Doha in a special aircraft to be detained there.
Paris and Canberra continued to oppose this move.
“France reiterates its strongest opposition to the release of those convicted of crimes against French nationals, particularly soldiers and humanitarian workers,” a Paris statement said.
Canberra also insisted that a Taliban terrorist who was killed three Australian soldiers and sent to Doha should also not be released.
The peace talks were delayed by six months as the Taliban and Kabul conducted a broader US-brokered prisoner exchange.
The Taliban released 1,000 Afghan troops, while Kabul released 5,000 insurgents.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)