Afghan peace talks open in Doha

The peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents officially opened in Qatar’s capital Doha on Saturday, marking the start of a process aimed at ending two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, news wires reported. The 19-year conflict is also the United States’ longest overseas military action.

The ceremony began at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) with a recitation from the Koran, followed by opening comments by Qatar’s foreign minister. Major players in the process, including Afghanistan’s peace council chairman Abdullah Abdullah and Taliban leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are also scheduled to speak.

Officials, diplomats and analysts say that although getting both sides to the negotiating table was an achievement, this does not mean the path to peace will be easy. “The negotiations will have to tackle a range of profound questions about the kind of country Afghans want,” Deborah Lyons, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, told the UNSecurity Council this month.

The inauguration ceremony comes one day after the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States that triggered its military involvement in Afghanistan. US forces intervened in Afghanistan on the orders of President George W. Bush a month after the attacks to hunt down their mastermind, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who had been given sanctuary by the country’s radical Islamist Taliban rulers.

Although the Taliban regime was quickly toppled, they regrouped and have since waged an insurgency that has sucked in Afghanistan’s neighbours and troops from dozens of countries, including NATO forces. Negotiations to broker a comprehensive peace deal were envisaged in a troop withdrawal pact signed between the US and the Taliban in February in an attempt to find a political settlement to end the war.

After months of delay, a dispute over the Taliban’s demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners was resolved this week. Ahead of the US presidential election in November, President Donald Trump is looking to show progress in his pledge to end the US involvement and pull out most of the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.

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