Talks between US and Taliban officials in Qatar have now gone on for four days with the two sides trying to establish a mechanism for a ceasefire in the 17-year war in Afghanistan and open dialogue with the Afghan government.
US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with Taliban representatives was originally slated to run over two days and its unexpected extension was a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar.
During the first two days, the talks focused on a plan for the withdrawal of the foreign forces and a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used for hostile acts against the United States and its allies, according to one of Taliban leaders, who wished to remain anonymous.
“The mechanism for a ceasefire and ways to enter into an intra-Afghan dialogue were the two other big topics that were supposed to be discussed on Thursday,” the official told Reuters news agency.
Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (AHPC), a body that oversees peace efforts but does not represent the government, said they were hoping that positive news would emerge from Doha.
“When talks take a long time, it means the discussion is in a sensitive and important stage, and the participants are getting close to a positive result,” said Sayed Ehsan Taheri, the spokesman for AHPC in Kabul.
“I hope this meeting opens a way for an intra-Afghan dialogue.”
The Taliban, who say they are fighting to expel foreign troops from Afghanistan, has repeatedly rejected the offer to hold direct talks with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
The US and regional powers insist that the peace process should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”.
Diplomatic efforts to end the US’s longest-running conflict intensified last year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban.
Khalilzad has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives. He also visited Pakistan last week holding meetings with various Pakistani officials.
On Thursday, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Muhammad Faisal told reporters that “the ongoing peace talks in Qatar have been facilitated by Pakistan”.
“Pakistan, as a part of the shared responsibility, is facilitating the ongoing round of talks between US and the Taliban in Doha,” said Faisal.
“Negotiations are between the two parties, for which Pakistan and Qatar are providing the necessary support and facilitating the talks.”
Khalilzad is last known to have met the Taliban last month in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, which has jockeyed for influence versus Gulf rival Qatar on spearheading diplomacy with the Taliban.
Despite the talks in Doha, there has been no letup in the violence in Afghanistan.
On Monday, dozens of Afghan security forces were killed when armed Taliban fighters attacked a military base about 44km southwest of Kabul.
A day earlier, a Taliban car bomb targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying the provincial governor of Logar in Afghanistan, killing at least eight Afghan security forces and wounding 10 others.