Afghan government and Taliban agree on location for peace talks after days of escalating violence

Afghan government and Taliban agree on location for peace talks after days of escalating violence
Source NYTimes

On Sunday, Afghanistan’s government and the Islamist Taliban group announced that both sides had agreed to meet in Doha, Qatar to conduct peace talks.

The peace talks, also known as the intra-Afghan dialogue, will be the first meeting between high-level officials from both sides after 19 years of conflict in the region.

However, no date has been set for the meeting.

“The first intra-Afghan meeting will happen in Doha,” said Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. Regarding the date, he said that the Islamist group was ready to engage in peace talks within a week of the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government, citing an agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

The US-Taliban peace deal signed in late February of this year outlines measures to reduce violence between the two parties, allowing the gradual withdrawal of foreign forces in Afghanistan. One of the main conditions of the deal is the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 captive Afghan security personnel.

While the Afghan government was not present in these talks, they have agreed to honor their role in the deal. To date, they have released 3,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Afghan government is eager to begin talks as soon as possible but also have issues regarding the release of a few hundred high-profile Taliban prisoners, a senior government official told Reuters. The official also added that in an attempt to compromise, the government had offered an alternative prisoner release list to the Taliban.

According to the Afghanistan Ministry of Internal Affairs, these preliminary talks also come amid reported escalating attacks by the Taliban.

Afghan National Security Council spokesperson Javid Faisal, said that the Taliban “have not reduced, but rather increased their attacks across the country,” after an initial drop in violence when the Taliban announced a three-day cease fire on May 24 to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

“In the past one week, the Taliban carried out 222 attacks against the Afghan security forces, resulting in the death and injury of 422 [personnel],” interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said at a Sunday press conference.

He also accused the Taliban of targeting religious scholars in efforts to put “psychological pressure” on the Afghan government for the release of their prisoners still in captivity.

While the Taliban admitted to carrying out attacks against Afghan security forces, they insisted the level remained low.

“We have reduced our attacks to 35 to 40% of what it used to be in the past,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP.

The spokesperson further stated that they have not launched any major attacks on Afghan cities since they signed the deal with the US, asserting their commitment to the deal if the conditions are fulfilled.

“Our position is that our remaining prisoners should be released before the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations,” said Shaheen.

Both sides have previously indicated that they are getting close to conducting the expected peace talks. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also vowed to complete the Taliban prisoner release so negotiations with the insurgent group can commence and the nearly two decades of war can come to an end.

“The cease fire, prisoners release and reduction in violence has created a momentum for the talks to begin soon and the government is fully ready,” an Afghan palace official told Reuters last week, adding that President Ashraf Ghani was optimistic.

However, if the reported increased attacks by the Taliban are true, it would violate the US-Taliban deal which stipulates an 80% reduction of violence from both sides.

Neither the Afghan government or the US have commented on whether this will affect the agreement.

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