Eight round of US-Taliban talks begins in Doha

Senior US diplomats start a fresh round of US-Taliban peace talks in Qatar’s capital Doha on Saturday, describing it to be the “most crucial” phase of negotiations to end insurgency in Afghanistan, said officials.

“Just got to Doha to resume talks with the Taliban,” tweeted Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative on Afghan reconciliation. “We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement; a peace agreement that enables withdrawal.”

Prior to the start of eight round of talks, senior officials on two sides expected a deal by the end of the eight round of talks between Khalilzad and Mullah Baradar.  

“The Taliban are signaling they would like to conclude an agreement,” said Khalilzad. “We are ready for a good agreement.”

Zabihullah Mujaheed, spokesperson for the Taliban, in a Twitter post, confirmed that talks would start between representatives of the US and the Taliban group on Saturday, August 3.

This came while US officials underlined that the Trump administration was preparing to pull out thousands of troops from Afghanistan in exchange for concession from the Taliban, including a cease-fire and a complete renunciation of Al-Qaeda.

“Our (US) presence in Afghanistan is condition-based,” said Khalilzad. “And any withdrawal will be conditions-based.”

The US-Taliban peace talks take shape in the wake of Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election, in which 18 candidates run for the election, including the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani. During one year long of peace negotiations, the Taliban refused to have direct talks with the Afghan government, branding it a “puppet government.”  

Hamid Karzai, the ex-president of Afghanistan, talking in a televised press conference, said, “We have supported US efforts for peace in Afghanistan, but we will not accept the US and Pakistan’s deal on our soil.” Commenting on 2019 presidential election, Mr. Karzai said that presidential election at this time does not serve interests of the country. He urged on more Afghan-centered efforts to accelerate the peace talks.

In July 2018, Donald Trump, the US president, tasked US diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to end the 18-year long insurgency in Afghanistan. The peace talks continued without major breakthrough on the ground.  

The eight round peace talks between the US and the Taliban takes place while the Taliban insurgents killed eight police forces and wounded 10 others in latest attack on central province of Daikundi.

The Afghan security forces along with US air force conducted an operation in western Farah province, where as many as 100 Taliban fighters were killed, and 50 others were wounded, according to local officials.

The Islamist Taliban group controls a sizable territory of Afghanistan. In previous talks, the Taliban insurgents stood firm, saying the group would not talk the Afghan government unless the US announce the schedule of a complete troop withdraw from Afghanistan.