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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Afghan-Taliban talks pick up in Qatar following weeks of stalemate


Representatives from the European Union also held meetings in Qatar this week with senior negotiating members involved in the Afghan peace process.

Qatar’s Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister for Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Resolution Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani met with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday along with the Taliban negotiating team chief Abdul Hakim Sheikh.

“The meeting dealt with reviewing the peace process in Afghanistan, and the ongoing talks in Doha between the different Afghan parties,” read a statement by Qatar’s foreign ministry.

According to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan government and the Taliban “discussed the process” of the ongoing peace talks as well as “the status quo of Afghanistan.”

Shaheen said that representatives from the militant group also held meetings on Tuesday in Qatar, where all parties involved discussed accelerating the peace process.

“Heads of the two negotiating teams, accompanied by some members of their respective teams, had meeting yesterday evening. They discussed topics of the agenda, accelerating the Afghan negotiations process and reaching mutual understanding in this regard,” tweeted Shaheen.

This week’s meetings seem to be the first since mid-May, following weeks of stalemate.

Ongoing tensions

Tensions have soared in Afghanistan in recent days as American and NATO troops continue to withdraw to meet a September 11 deadline.

The Taliban has not welcomed the delayed announcement, accusing the US of not abiding by its obligations in an accord signed by the insurgent group and Washington in February last year, which stipulated that all American troops would be pulled out of Kabul by May.
The group later refused to participate in the US-proposed peace conference in Istanbul, which was initially scheduled to take place in April.

Meanwhile, there have been rising concerns over the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that is now halfway complete, according to statements made earlier this week by Commander of the US Central Command General Kenneth Mckenzie.

Among the concerns raised this week was the fate of Americans held hostage overseas in Afghanistan and their return home.

On Wednesday, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation released a report to detail the status of the US government’s efforts to ensure the release of hostages held in foreign countries, including those in Afghanistan.

“They also fear that the further reduction of US physical presence in the country is an erosion of the leverage needed to make progress on resolving these cases,” said the report.

There have also been concerns about the increase of the Taliban’s control over several Afghan provinces.

According to a recent UN report, experts have said that land control is a perceived tactic of the Taliban as a means of strengthening its military position in Afghanistan.

It also said that the Taliban has been responsible for the majority of Kabul’s targeted assassinations, which “appear to be undertaken with the objective of weakening the capacity of the government and intimidating civil society”.

Tuesday attack

On Tuesday, masked gunmen attacked the compound of mine-clearing organisation, HALO Trust charity, in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 workers and wounding 16 others.

Reports state that up to 110 workers were present at the compound during the time of the attack. The Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the attack, an accusation that was later confirmed to be false.

“The local Taliban actually came to our assistance, and the Taliban itself has denied responsibility – so my suspicion is that it’s a different organisation,” James Cowan, chief executive of the UK-based organisation, told Al Jazeera.

The SITE intelligence monitoring group later confirmed that the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the ambush.

Qatar strongly condemned the attack on the de-mining experts, reiterating its rejection of “violence and terrorism, regardless of motives and reasons,” while condoling the families of the victims.

The Gulf state has been facilitating the ongoing Afghan Peace Process since September last year with hopes to establish peace and stability in Kabul after decades of conflict. However, no major progress has yet to be reported.

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