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All-Afghan peace summit agreed upon, but on Taliban terms

02 Jul 2019 Japan Times

ISLAMABAD - An all-Afghan peace summit will be held July 7 and 8 in the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, but it would seem to be on Taliban terms as there will be no official government representation.

Rather, according to Germany’s special representative Ambassador Markus Potzel in a statement on Tuesday, those attending “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing.”

The Taliban have flatly refused to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, while repeatedly offering talks with anyone who comes to the table as an ordinary Afghan. The Taliban have already twice met with prominent Afghans, including former President Hamid Karzai and even members of the government’s peace council as well as opposition politicians. Those meetings have both been held in Moscow.

The announced talks come just a day after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a devastating attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed at least six people and wounded more than 100 others, many of them children attending two schools in the area, according to the education ministry in Kabul.

Monday’s attack occurred at the height of morning rush hour. It began with a powerful car bomb and lasted nearly 10 hours as five gunmen holed up in a high-rise building fired into a nearby defense ministry building, which the militants said was the target of the attack. Police eventually killed all five attackers.

Hafiz Khan, who operates a car battery workshop near the site of the downtown explosion, was waiting Tuesday along with dozens of other shopkeepers for police permission to enter the area, which was still cordoned off by Afghan security personnel.

“Immediately after the blast all I could see was dark black smoke everywhere, for minutes I wasn’t sure where I was,” said Khan looking into Kabul’s devastated market area. “It was the most dangerous moment of my life.”

President Ghani condemned Monday’s attack, saying the Taliban “wanted to continue this war.”

However, he has not responded to the announcement of next week’s talks. He has previously demanded the Taliban talk directly with his government, some of whom have complained about their continuing exclusion from meetings between Taliban and the U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Khalilzad, who is holding a seventh round of direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, already held a battery of meetings with the Afghan president in Kabul last month. In an overnight tweet, he welcomed the announced all-Afghan talks. He tweeted that “this dialogue is an essential element of the four-part peace framework & an important step in advancing the #AfghanPeaceProcess.”

In the U.S., President Donald Trump said he wants to pull American troops out of Afghanistan but is concerned that without a U.S. military presence, the country could be used as a base for terrorist attacks on the United States.

In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Trump said the problem with pulling the 9,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the site of America’s longest war, is that the country is a “lab for terrorists.”

“I call it the Harvard of terrorists,” Trump said.

He recounted conversations he had with U.S. military officials telling them of his desire to remove troops. He said they warned him it would be better to fight terrorists in Afghanistan than at home.

“‘Sir, I’d rather attack them over there, than attack them in our land,'” Trump said a general had told him. “It’s something you always have to think about,” Trump said.

Even if the United States did remove its troops, Trump said, it would leave a “very strong intelligence” presence in Afghanistan.

The interview with Trump was taped over the weekend, prior to Monday’s truck bomb attack.

Germany will co-sponsor the talks with Qatar, according to the statement issued by Ambassador Potzel, who is the German special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

An earlier intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar was scuttled when the two sides couldn’t agree on participants. Potzel said the invitations this time have been jointly issued by Germany and Qatar.

“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress toward peace,” said Potzel in his statement. “Only Afghans themselves can decide the future of their country.”

He said both Qatar and Germany are hoping the talks will create trust between the warring sides.

The Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen said earlier that talks with Khalilzad are focused on a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. In a tweet on Monday, Shaheen had said talks would come with an announcement of a timetable for withdrawal of the estimated 20,000 service personnel.

“Peace will never come to Afghanistan,” said an angry Sawab Gul, who was waiting in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday to open his partially destroyed bedding store. At 40 years old, Gul said he has never seen peace in his country and held out little hope for the current attempts at finding an end to Afghanistan’s relentless wars.

“Every day people are dying. Afghanistan is like a hell for us Afghans,” he said. “I don’t think I will ever see peace.”

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