The Afghan Taliban on Monday said they would again start peace talks with the US in Qatar from Wednesday and continue till Thursday, this month.
Two senior Taliban leaders said their meeting was supposed to be held in the Saudi capital Riyadh but they cancelled their talks there after Saudi authorities wanted them to include the Afghan government in the peace process as well. “As we have already made it clear that we would not hold any meeting with the Afghan government while Saudi authorities wanted us to allow its participation in the peace process. And that’s why we cancelled the meeting in Saudi Arabia,” one senior Taliban official said.
Pleading anonymity, he said that after discussions with the US officials, it was decided to conduct the meeting in Doha, the capital of Qatar. He said they would start their negotiations that remained incomplete in their previous meeting in the UAE, where representatives from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE also participated.
According to Taliban sources, besides the US delegation, Saudis and the UAE also wanted them to announce a two-month truce which they had refused. In the meeting scheduled in Qatar, Taliban said their Qatar-based members of the political office would represent them in the talks.
Former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is likely to lead the American delegation. Unlike the UAE peace talks, Taliban sources said no other country would attend the meeting in Qatar.
Taliban leaders said they would discuss the US withdrawal, prisoners’ exchange and lifting of ban on movement of their leadership in the Qatar peace talks. Another senior Taliban leader also confirmed their meeting with the US officials in Qatar and denied reports that they would announce a ceasefire in the coming talks.
“There is no way we could announce any ceasefire in the coming negotiations. Everyone knows that Taliban are conducting 95 per cent of attacks in Afghanistan and if they announce a ceasefire, it would help the Americans and the Afghan government. Then why would we announce a ceasefire without any gain?” said the Taliban leader.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also confirmed cancellation of their meeting in Saudi Arabia, saying they had a clear-cut stance that they would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government.
Taliban said they had suffered heavy losses in their 17-year-long fight against the US-led foreign forces and started negotiations with them with a strong commitment to ensure their withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, they argued, the Afghan government wanted the US and other foreign forces to stay in the country.
“We have opposite objectives, then why should we waste our time by negotiating with the Afghan government,” a Taliban leader in Afghanistan’s Helmand province said. Taliban sources say some regional powers also wanted them to include the Afghan government in the peace process which according to them their top leadership had straightaway refused.
Taliban do not expect any major breakthrough in their talks with the US, saying the Americans would have to prove their sincerity in peace talks by announcing withdrawal of their forces from Afghanistan.