U.S. Envoy Says Latest Taliban Peace Talks ‘Most Productive’ So Far

Afghan Taliban militants stand with residents as they took to the street to celebrate ceasefire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 16,2018. - Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces hugged and took selfies with each other in restive eastern Afghanistan on June 16, …
NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images

Peace talks between representatives from the United States and the Taliban continued in Qatar over the weekend as the narco-jihadi group detonated a car bomb outside a government security compound in central Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, killing 14 people and injuring more than 180, including many children.

“It is very hard to sit across from those men who are waging a war against innocent Afghans, but it is also a test of our commitment to peace,” an unnamed senior Afghan official involved in the talks told Reuters in an article published Monday.

Reuters’ report came on the same day that Taliban jihadis met with representatives of Afghanistan society, including members of the Afghan government who participated in the talks in a personal capacity.

Last week, negotiators from the U.S. and the Taliban began the seventh round of peace talks since last year.

On Saturday, the two sides decided to put the negotiations on hold for two days to allow time for the Afghan representatives to meet with the Taliban.

As the “selected group of Afghan activists and civil society figures” prepared to meet with the Taliban in Qatar, the terrorist group carried out a deadly car bomb attack in central Afghanistan on Sunday, “casting a pall over talks intended to open the way for full [intra-Afghan] peace negotiations in the future,” the Guardian notes.

The day before the attack, Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, described the latest round of discussions on Twitter as the “most productive session” to date.

“We made substantive progress on ALL 4 parts of a peace agreement: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, participation in intra-Afghan dialogue & negotiations, and permanent & comprehensive ceasefire,” he added.

Sunday’s attack took place in Ghazni province near an office of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s leading intelligence agency. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 180 others — “many of the students attending a nearby school,” the Guardian reports.

The ongoing peace talks are mainly focused on hashing out a time frame for the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban guarantees that international jihadi groups like its ally al-Qaeda and rival Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) will no longer use Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to launch attacks.

Negotiations between the United States and the Taliban are expected to continue on Tuesday. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration hopes to have a peace agreement by September 1.

The Trump administration has made the political reconciliation between the American-backed Afghan government and the Taliban the main goal of its strategy to end the war.

Taliban narco-jihadis, however, continue to refuse to negotiate directly with Afghan government representatives, dismissing Kabul as an American puppet. The Taliban, which is fighting to implement a sharia-compliant Islamic emirate in Afghanistan, considers itself the only legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Despite the group’s refusal to meet with Kabul officials, the Taliban did participate in negotiations with a 60-member delegation of Afghan society representatives on Monday, a move that the U.S. believes will bring the talks closer to an intra-Afghan peace agreement.

The United States has repeatedly insisted that a peace pact must be Afghan-led and owned.

“The Taliban prefer Islamic Emirates style of government while we ask for a republic,” Khalid Noor, the son of a powerful politician from northern Afghanistan, Atta Mohammad Noor, told Reuters, referring to the talks on Monday.

The Taliban — which contests or controls more territory (about half of the country) now than during any other time since U.S. troops removed it from office in late 2001 — has intensified its deadly attacks during the peace negotiations.

According to the United Nations, the Taliban is the top perpetrator behind the 10,993 civilian casualties (3,804 deaths and 7,189 injuries) in 2018, marking the deadliest year for civilians and “the highest recorded number of boys and girls killed in the conflict during a single year.”

An estimated 20,000 foreign troops are serving in Afghanistan, including about 14,000 Americans. While the bulk of the mission revolves around training and assisting the Afghan security forces who have borne the brunt of the violence at the hands of the Taliban in recent years, some American troops are involved in counterterrorism operations.

President Donald Trump has indicated that he is planning to leave behind a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban keeps any promises made under a potential peace agreement. Although it wants to keep the flow of American taxpayer funds into Afghanistan going, the Taliban has rejected U.S. proposals to maintain a small presence in the country in the wake of a potential peace agreement.

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