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Fresh round of US, Taliban talks in Doha, hope for peace deal rise

03 Aug 2019 TRT World

Negotiators launch final efforts to sign a peace deal to bring an end the conflict that killed and injured at least 1,500 civilians only in July in Afghanistan.

A fresh round of US-Taliban peace

talks began in Qatar's capital Doha on Saturday, officials said,

describing it to be the "most crucial" phase of negotiations to

end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Senior officials privy to the talks said a peace agreement

could be expected at the end of the eighth round of talks,

possibly before Aug 13, and would enable foreign forces to be

withdrawn from the war-torn country.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US peace envoy for Afghanistan who

has held a series of meetings with Taliban leaders since last

year, reached Doha on Friday night.

"Just got to Doha to resume talks with the Taliban. We are

pursuing a peace agreement, not a withdrawal agreement,"

Khalilzad wrote on Twitter.

"A peace agreement that enables withdrawal. Our (US)

presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal

will be conditions-based," he said, adding the Taliban are

signaling they would conclude an agreement.

"We are ready for a good agreement."

Two sources with knowledge of the talks said an agreement on

the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for security

guarantees by the Taliban is expected before Aug13.

About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now

in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train,

assist and advise Afghan forces.

The Taliban now controls more

territory than at any point since the United States bombed them

out of power in 2001.

Two Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen and Zabihullah Mujahid

said a 19-member Taliban negotiation team will represent them

in the Doha peace talks.

"The issue of forces withdrawal has prolonged the peace

talks and delayed the deal," said a senior Taliban commander

based in Afghanistan on conditions of anonymity.

"There was no way we would allow permanent stay of US

forces in Afghanistan after signing a peace deal with them," he

said, adding that the Taliban will provide complete assurance that

no foreign militant group will be allowed to use Afghanistan to

launch attacks against the United States and its allies.

Leaders of the insurgent group have repeatedly stated that a

ceasefire or talks with the Afghan government and civil society

members will not take place until the United States announces a

plan for foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The US President Donald Trump wants combat forces reduced in Afghanistan by the next US presidential election in November 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month.


Fighting in Afghanistan has not subsided. More than 1,500

civilians were killed and injured in July, a record monthly toll

this year, and the highest number documented in a month since

May 2017, United Nations of Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

said in a statement on Saturday.

Many Afghans fear a US troop withdrawal announcement will

weaken their bargaining power with hardline groups,

who aim to re-establish an Islamic emirate to replace an

elected government it dismisses as puppets of foreign forces.

Women's rights groups in particular worry about the fate of

women and girls in the event of a return of the Taliban, who

banned girls’ education and imposed severe restrictions on

women’s rights to work outside the home.

The sense of uncertainty revolving around the peace talks

has become a source of distress with many Afghans fearing a complete collapse of law and order if the United States fails to

protect basic freedom guaranteed under the Afghan constitution.

In June, Pompeo said he hoped for a peace deal with the

Taliban before Sept 1.

"The Americans are being hasty to sign the deal. Right now

it feels like we will wake up one morning and find the Taliban

government has been installed," said Mustafa Karimi, a shopkeeper in Kabul whose brother was killed last year by the

Taliban during clashes with Afghan forces.

"Taliban often use Afghan civilians as human shields and now

the US is also putting our lives at risk to exit out of

Afghanistan," he said.

"We are doomed if the peace talks don't protect our basic rights and freedom."

Source: Reuters

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