The long-awaited peace talks with the negotiating team selected by the Afghan government are to begin on Saturday in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, the Taliban said in a statement on Thursday.
The start of negotiations was was also announced by Qatar’s foreign ministry and Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed in a tweet that their delegation will be in Qatar’s capital of Doha for the talks.
“The Afghan government has made all the necessary arrangements for peace and the negotiating team of the Afghan government is fully prepared to travel to Doha for the start of the peace negotiations with the Taliban group,” Sediqqi tweeted.
The talks — known as intra-Afghan negotiations — were laid out in a peace deal settled between the United States and the Taliban, signed in February, also in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
That deal aims to end Afghanistan’s protracted war and bring American troops home while the intra-Afghan talks are to set a road map for a post-war society in Afghanistan. The deal, which did not include the Afghan government directly, nevertheless did promise intra-Afghan negotiations to begin on March 10. The talks have met numerous delays since then. In mid-August the talks were said to be starting soon, before further delays.
The negotiations are expected to be a difficult process as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting the rights of women and minorities. The fate of the tens of thousands of armed Taliban, as well as militias loyal to government-allied warlords, will also be on the agenda, along with constitutional changes for Afghanistan.
On Twitter, Sediqqi said that Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the High Council for National Reconciliation, Acting Afghan Foreigh Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the President’s Special Representative on Peace Affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi, and State Minister for Peace Affairs Seyed Sa’adat Mansour Naderi will represent the Afghan government at the inaugural ceremony marking the start of the talks.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the U.S.-Taliban deal signed on February 29, has been in Doha for the past week, trying to push the talks forward.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops is not dependent on the success of the negotiations but rather on commitments taken by the Taliban under the deal with the U.S. to fight other militant groups, most specifically the Islamic State group, and to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a staging ground for attacks on the United States or its allies.
Washington and NATO have already begun withdrawing troops and by November, the United States expects to have less than 5,000 troops still in Afghanistan.
By Kathy Gannon for the Associated Press in Islamabad, Pakistan; with additional reporting by The Diplomat.