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January 23, 2019

Two-day talks inconclusive: US, Afghan Taliban to meet again today

National

January 23, 2019

PESHAWAR: The talks between Afghan Taliban and US in Qatar remained inconclusive on Tuesday and the two sides agreed to meet again today.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to this correspondent that their second day meeting concluded without yielding any result and the two sides agreed to meet again for the third day in a bid to break the stalemate.

Taliban sources privy to peace talks with US officials led by Zalmay Khalilzad said it was a lengthy meeting that lasted for many hours.

They said they discussed the issue of withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and formation of an interim government, lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders and a guarantee from Taliban that Afghanistan’s soil would never be used against any other country, particularly against the US in future. The sources said the meeting was held “in a cordial atmosphere” and the two sides patiently listened to each other’s point of view.

“Each side presented its case with strong arguments and listened carefully to each other. They agreed to meet again on Wednesday and continue their efforts for finding solution for ending the conflict,” said a senior Taliban member privy to the peace talks.

He said Taliban representatives felt that US officials didn’t give them a clear-cut answer to their two major demands, withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and lifting ban on movement of Taliban leaders.

“The US concern is that Afghanistan could again become a hub of international militant organisations if foreign forces were withdrawn. And our representatives assured them time and again that if Afghanistan had to become a stronghold of foreign militant groups, it would have become so by now,” said the Taliban source. Taliban argued that in the past 17 years when Afghanistan was under occupation of US- led forces, there is no proof that foreign militants used the country to attack any other country in the world.

According to Taliban sources, head of Taliban’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai led his delegation in the talks. He was accompanied by Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, Sohail Shaheen, Mullah Mohammad Fazil, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, Qari Din Mohammad and Mullah Shahabuddin Dilawar.

Taliban said they don’t expect any major breakthrough in the talks in Qatar, but they wanted to give a chance to peace negotiations to find solution for ending the 17-year long war in Afghanistan.

In their earlier three-day meeting held in Qatar last year, Taliban claimed U.S officials had assured them for formation of an interim government in Afghanistan comprising people recommended by Taliban leaders.

Also, Taliban in that meeting demanded U.S postponement of presidential election in Afghanistan and they claimed Zalmay Khalilzad had agreed with them.

It is unlikely that Afghan leadership, particularly President Ashraf Ghani, who is also candidate in the July 20 presidential election, would agree with Zalmay Khalilzad in case he proposes formation of an interim government. Both Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Dr Abdullah have already rejected the proposal for an interim government.

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