Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates:
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with Taliban and Afghan government negotiators on Saturday to see signs of progress in their talks as the United States accelerates its withdrawal.
The Foreign Ministry announced late Friday that Pompeo would meet separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiating teams in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pompeo will also see Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and the foreign minister during his visit to the capital Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy, the Foreign Ministry said in its public schedule.
The outgoing top US diplomat is on a 7-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East while President Donald Trump sets the late-stage priorities.
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 agreement, although analysts believe it will not be so tied to a quick schedule.
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.
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 in – has been criticized by residents of Kabul, who fear it will encourage the Taliban to start a new wave of fighting trigger.
The Afghan civilian population has long borne the brunt of the bloodshed.
Officials in Kabul also fear this will cement the Taliban’s position at the negotiating table, where the future of hard-won achievements, including women’s rights, is at stake.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)