Afghan Peace Talks In Doha: US Envoy, Taliban Co-Founder Meet For the First Time –Over Working Lunch

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Taliban co-founder meets top White House envoy; “could be a significant moment”. Khalilzad thanks Pakistan for facilitating the travel of Taliban leaders to Qatar; The Afghan government has been excluded from Doha talks but President Ashraf Ghani said last month that US negotiator has kept him informed of the progress.

PKONWEB Report (New York/Islamabad) — Afghan Taliban and US officials on Monday resumed their fifth round of peace talks in Doha, raising hopes that the two sides are closing in on a peace deal to end the 17-year-long unwinnable war in Afghanistan, stated to be America’s longest war so far that has cost American taxpayers nealry $1 trillion.

Senior members of the Afghan Taliban said their top leader Mulla Abdul Baradar Akhund, head of Taliban’s political council and co-founder of the Taliban movement participated in the introductory meeting. Zalmay Khalilzad, the top US envoy seeking to broker peace in Afghanistan met Baradar for the first time.

Khalilzad said he held a working lunch with Mullah Baradar before “moving on to talks”. A respected leader among the Taliban, Baradar is thought to bring decision making authority to the negotiating table.

A Feb. 25, 2019 photo released by Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows representatives from that country, the United States and the Afghan Taliban holding talks in Doha. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, is second from the left, and the Deputy Commander of the Taliban Movement for Political Affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is fifth from the right.

Baradar is leading an all powerful 14-member Taliban delegation while US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad is heading his 15-memebr team which observers say could be decisive–Baradar’s presence in Qatar is thought to improve the chances of a deal, observers say.

Last month’s US-Taliban talks in Qatar made progress in ending 17 years of conflict in Afghanistan, the US said.

US special envoy Khalilzad said the January talks had been “more productive than they have been in the past” but added there were a number of issues still to work out.

Sources said Qatari foreign minister had invited Mulla Baradar and had sent a special plane that took him and three other senior members of their political council to Qatar on Sunday evening.

Mullah Baradar was appointed the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar last month.

According to Taliban sources cited by some news outlets, the two sides would discuss two major issues in the peace talks, including a framework of US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Taliban’s commitment not to let the Afghan soil being used against any country, particularly the United States and its allies.

“As per plan of the meeting agenda, we are set to talk on these two issues only. But our team is expected to raise some other issues as well such prisoners’ swap and lifting ban on movement of senior Taliban leaders.

Taliban sources said they learnt that Zalmay Khalilzad and his team would push them on announcing a ceasefire, saying they would think about a ceasefire at a latter stage when all other issues are resolved with the US.

According to Taliban sources, their meeting is expected to be continued till Thursday. However, they said talks could be prolonged if needed. Their last talks continued for six days in Doha.

An excited Khalilzad in a tweet stated that the team sent by Taliban had more clout than previous ones. “Arrived in Doha to meet with a more authoritative Taliban delegation,” he said in a tweet on Monday.

He later tweeted: “just finished a working lunch with Mullah Baradar and his team…..Now moving on to talks.” “The path to peace doesn’t often run in a straight line. The situation in Afghanistan is complex and like all sensitive talks, not everything is conducted in public. Let me take a moment to explain where we are…

We made significant progress on two vital issues: counter terrorism and troop withdrawal. That doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re not even finished with these issues yet, and there is still work to be done on other vital issues like intra-Afghan dialogue and a complete ceasefire,” explained Khalilzad.

A senior Taliban figure told the BBC that Mullah Baradar’s authority within the group to make decisions could help “speed up the peace process”.

Mr Khalilzad has suggested this is the case. He tweeted that he was this time meeting “with a more authoritative Taliban delegation”, adding that it “could be a significant moment”.

Khalilzad on Monday thanked Pakistan for facilitating the travel of Taliban leaders to Qatar.

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