Afghanistan’s long-awaited intra-Afghan talks got underway Saturday morning in Doha, Qatar after years of behind-the-scenes activity to get to this historic point.
Opening the ceremony officially was Qatar’s deputy premier and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani who was then followed by Afghanistan’s Chairman of the High Council of National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah said the Afghan team has come to Doha with a clear intention to hold honest talks with the Taliban in order to end 40 years of bloodshed and bring lasting peace.
“The legitimate demand of our people and the goal of peace is to end all forms of war and violence through political means,” he said.
He told delegates Afghans want a constitutional system and stability.
“The current war has no winner through war, but a political solution according to the will of the nation has no loser!” he said.
On the issue of the deal signed between the United States and the Taliban, he said people had hoped for peace after this.
“Unfortunately, since then, more than 12,000 Afghans have been killed and about 15,000 wounded in the conflict,” he said.
Addressing the Taliban, he said: “We have released a large number of your prisoners from our prisons for peace and thank you for releasing the prisoners of state.”
He also called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” with the Taliban.
“We have to stop violence and agree on a ceasefire as soon as possible. We want a humanitarian ceasefire,” said the former minister who chairs the High Council for National Reconciliation.
In conclusion, he said: “I believe that if we all give each other the hand of brotherhood with honesty and sincerity, the current torn edge of grief will bring lasting peace to all and to the country.”
Taliban’s head of their negotiating team, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, then delivered his speech and said the Taliban assures Afghans that they will conduct the negotiations sincerely but stated that Afghanistan should have an Islamic system.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also addressed delegates and noted the importance of the day.
Pompeo urged warring Afghan sides to seize the opportunity to strike a peace deal.
“The choice of your future political system is, of course, yours to make,” he said, adding that he hoped the solution would protect the rights of all Afghans and protect social progress, including the presence of women in public life.
“I cannot strongly enough urge you, seize this opportunity”, he added.
NATO to provide provisional funding to help run Kabul airport
NATO has not yet decided on who would run the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul once foreign troops have withdrawn, the organization’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Monday night.
Stoltenberg said however that Turkey would play a “key role” in running the airport and that NATO is committed to providing transitional funding for the key facility.
This comes after Turkey offered to run and guard the airport after the withdrawal of troops.
However, the Taliban issued a warning and said such a move would be a “mistake” and that any country doing so would be considered invaders.
“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate (Taliban),” the group cautioned in a statement.
The Taliban insisted that the security of airports, foreign embassies, and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.
In a communique issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the NATO Summit, it was stated that NATO will retain a Senior Civilian Representative’s Office in Kabul to continue diplomatic engagement and enhance its partnership with Afghanistan.
“Recognising its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan’s connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure the continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the communique read.
“We will also step up dialogue on Afghanistan with relevant international and regional partners. We continue to support the ongoing Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, and call on all stakeholders to help Afghanistan foster a lasting inclusive political settlement that puts an end to violence; safeguards the human rights of Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; upholds the rule of law; and ensures that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”
NATO looking at setting up training base for Afghan forces in Qatar
Security officials under NATO command have approached Qatar to secure a base that can be used to train Afghan special forces as part of a strategic commitment after foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan, three senior Western officials told Reuters.
After two decades of war, forces from 36 countries involved in NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan are set to pull out of the country in coordination with a U.S. troop withdrawal by September 11.
“We are holding talks to earmark a base in Qatar to create an exclusive training ground for senior members of the Afghan forces,” said a senior Western security official in Kabul.
The official, whose country is part of the U.S.-led NATO alliance in Afghanistan, requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with journalists.
An integral part of Resolute Support has been to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban, which was ousted from power in 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.
“We have made an offer but it is for authorities in Qatar to decide if they are comfortable with NATO using their territory as a training ground,” said a second security source based in Washington DC.
A third source, a diplomat based in Kabul, told Reuters bringing “Afghan special force members to Qatar for about four to six weeks of rigorous training” was under discussion.
Qatar’s government and NATO’s communications office did not respond to questions about the proposal to use the Gulf state as a base for training Afghan forces.
The Afghan government also did not respond to a request for comment.
Khalilzad says US ‘not leaving Afghanistan’ despite troop pullout
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said the United States will not abandon the war-torn country even after the withdrawal of its forces.
Addressing a press conference during his visit to Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan on Sunday, Khalilzad said: “Our forces are leaving Afghanistan, but the United States is not leaving Afghanistan. We will work hard for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”
“We will continue our security assistance, and we will continue our economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” he added.
This comes as concerns continue to grown around the uncertainty in Kabul amid a spike in violence and stalled peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Republic.
In Nur-Sultan, Khalilzad said he regularly discusses Afghanistan with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative Zamir Kabulov, RFE\RL reported Monday.
“Russia and the United States are working well together in promoting peace in Afghanistan,” according to him.
Khalilzad is currently on a visit to the region in a drive to muster support for the peace process ahead of the US and NATO troops withdrawal, which is expected to be finalized by September 11.
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