Afghanistan to Start Peace Talks With Taliban By the End of February

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High level diplomats from four countries met over the weekend in Islamabad to discuss ending the war in Afghanistan. The meeting, hosted by the Government of Pakistan, was the third time that the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China convened discussing the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.

According to an Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, the representatives of the QCG countries—Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai; Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry; U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard G. Olson; and China’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Deng Xijun—expect talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups to take place by the of February 2016.

“[T]he QCG countries agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by the end of February 2016.” However, Ahmad Shekib Mustaghni, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that merely the date for peace talks will be finalized by the end of February 2016.

“Building on the progress made in the last two meetings, the Group explored ways for holding early direct peace talks between the authorized representatives of the Afghan Government and Taliban groups,” according to the press release. ”In this regard, the Group also adopted a roadmap stipulating the stages and steps in the process.”

Abdul Hakim Mujahid of Kabul’s High Peace Council told the Associated Press: “The first step is to formulate a roadmap, the second is to invite the armed opposition to the negotiating table and the last step is the implementation of the peace plan.” Kabul held peace talks with the Taliban in the summer of 2015, but the dialogue collapsed after the announcement of the death of the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The QCG met for the first time on January 12 in Islamabad, followed by a second round of talks on January 18 in Kabul. The Taliban were not represented at either of the two meetings, nor were they present on Saturday. Afghanistan’s Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah told Reuters that he expects talks with “groups among the Taliban who might be willing to talk and give up violence” within six months.  ”It should be sooner than six months,” he said in an interview on February 4 in New Delhi.

A January 2015 Taliban statement on prospective peace talks notes that no discussions will occur until NATO forces have withdrawn from the country: “The invaders should leave the country and give the Afghan people opportunity to determine their fate themselves.” The statement does list “preliminary steps” that should be taken prior to peace including prisoner releases  and the removal of Taliban operatives  from “blacklist and prize list” (presumably NATO targeting lists). “Peace is viable only when practical ways of peace are identified and assessed,” it says.

The QCG emphasized that “the outcome of the reconciliation process should be a political settlement that results in the cessation of violence, and durable peace in Afghanistan.” The representatives also agreed to reconvene for a follow-up meeting in Kabul on 23 February 2016. Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai recently urged in an interview that India, Iran and Russia should be included in the peace process, according to Tolo News.

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