Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha and urged them to accelerate their peace talks while Washington accelerates its military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Pompeo “called for a significant reduction in violence and encouraged accelerated discussions on a political roadmap and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” the State Department said.
The top US diplomat met separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiating teams at a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital, and his encounter with the radical Islamist insurgents lasted over an hour.
His visit came after a missile strike that hit densely populated areas in Kabul and killed at least eight people in the recent outbreak of violence in the Afghan capital. The Taliban denied responsibility and the Islamic state group called for a deadly strike.
“I would be most interested to have your thoughts on how we can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome,” said Pompeo when meeting the Afghan government’s side and noting the common interest in such a scenario.
He also met Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, the foreign minister, while visiting Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy.
However, there was no announcement of a breakthrough in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government prior to Pompeo’s departure.
He flew on to Abu Dhabi for the next leg of his seven-nation journey through Europe and the Middle East as President Donald Trump sets the late-time priorities.
Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation, told AFP the government and the Taliban are “very close” to breaking a deadlock in talks.
“We are close, we are very close. Hopefully we will pass this phase and come to the essential questions,” he said during a visit to Turkey.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that it would soon be withdrawing around 2,000 soldiers from Afghanistan, shortening the deadline set in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisages a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “wars forever”, including in Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict that began with an invasion to drive the Taliban out after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
President-elect Joe Biden also advocates ending the Afghanistan war on a rare point of settlement with Trump, although analysts believe it will not be linked so much to a swift withdrawal.
The Taliban are speaking to the Afghan government for the first time.
Talks began in Doha on September 12, but stalled almost immediately due to disagreements over the agenda, the framework for discussion and religious interpretations.
Several sources told AFP on Friday that the two sides appear to have resolved some of the issues, however.
Among the sticking points so far, the Taliban and the Afghan government have tried to agree on a common language on two main topics.
The Taliban, who are Sunni hardliners, insist on adhering to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say this could be used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiites, and other minorities in Afghanistan.
Another controversial issue is how the US-Taliban agreement shapes a future Afghan peace deal and how it is referred to.
The Doha peace talks opened after the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February. The US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces against security guarantees and the Taliban’s promise to start talks.
Despite the talks, violence has increased across Afghanistan and the Taliban are intensifying attacks on Afghan security forces on a daily basis.
Trump’s plan to crush the troops by January 15 – less than a week before his successor Joe Biden is sworn into office – has been criticized in Afghanistan.
During the strike on Saturday against the Afghan capital, rockets hit various parts of central and north Kabul – including in and around the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses embassies and international companies.
The Islamic State Group said in a statement that 28 Katyusha rockets were fired by “soldiers of the caliphate”.
The Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, Tariq Arian, had previously accused the Taliban, saying that “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets. However, the Taliban denied responsibility, saying they “don’t blindly shoot public places”.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)