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Afghan Taliban resume peace talks with US envoy in Qatar

ISLAMABAD: The United States and the Taliban on Monday resumed their talks in Doha aimed at ending the stalemate over participation of Afghan government in negotiations for a political settlement of the conflict.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement said: “Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha.”

The talks would continue on Tuesday.

Doha meeting happened as the Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan intelligence agency — National Directorate of Security — installation in Maidan Shahr, Kabul, killing and wounding dozens of security personnel.

The two sides — US and Taliban — had last met in December 2018 in Abu Dhabi in a meeting facilitated by Pakistan and observed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. It had been agreed at the meeting that the engagement process would be continued. But, arranging the next round of talks became difficult due to the Taliban’s inflexibility over negotiating with the Afghan government. The Taliban have, meanwhile, been insisting that US should instead withdraw its forces and release Taliban prisoners.

There was no word from the US side on the Taliban claim after the latest meeting in Doha that US had agreed to discuss withdrawal plans.

US Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had earlier on Saturday hinted at flexibility in the American position. He had said: “Let me be clear: the US wants peace. … To achieve peace, we are ready to address legitimate concerns of all Afghan sides in a process that ensures Afghan independence and sovereignty, and accounts for legitimate interests of regional states. Urgent that fighting end.”

He had made these comments while clarifying his statement from Kabul in which he talked about maintaining military pressure while engaging in peace talks. This was seen as an indication that the US was pursuing a talks and fight strategy.

Amb Khalilzad last week made an extensive trip to Pakistan spanning over five days during which intensive behind the scenes efforts were made to end the impasse in the ongoing contacts.

The special envoy appeared hopeful as he left Islamabad on Sunday. “We’re heading in the right direction with more steps by Pakistan coming that will lead to concrete results,” he had tweeted after concluding Pakistan trip.

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