US-Taliban talks on a ceasefire will resume in Qatar on Tuesday following two days of talks between various Afghan groups that began on July 7. The intra-Afghan talks were noteworthy as they saw the first instance of participation by Afghan government officials, albeit in a private capacity. The Taliban had insisted that any representatives of the government could not attend the talks in their official capacity.
The meeting of Afghan groups in Doha saw over 60 politicians, members of council, activists and journalists participating. Zalmay Khalidzad, the US envoy for Afghanistan, said the meeting had made substantial progress towards resolving the 18-year-old long conflict. However, on the very day the talks began, a car bomb in central Afghanistan’s Ghazni province killed 14 people and wounded 180 others, of whom 60 were schoolchildren. Following the incident, government forces reportedly carried out airstrikes on Taliban strongholds in the Logan and Helmand provinces, killing almost 30 insurgents.
A joint statement released on Monday said that parties are “committed to respect and protect the dignity of people, their life and property and to minimize the civilian casualties to zero.” The statement also talked of a timeline for the withdrawal of US troops and the need to protect public institutions, such as schools, hospitals, madrassas and marketplaces.
Various US leaders, including president Donald Trump have expressed their intention to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan as soon as possible. However, for months, the talks have hit a roadblock over the refusal of the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the government of president Ashraf Ghani. Experts believe the Taliban is negotiating a deal with the US to ensure the latter’s troops leave before mounting a stronger offensive on the government.
Mullah Mohammad Salam Zaeef, the senior Taliban representative, said on the sidelines of the two-day talks that the Taliban would not accept any decisions which is not in their interest irrespective of the amount of political and militarily pressure on them. “The time to respect each other and to respect the reality and to respect the right of each other has come. We are very much sure we will find a way out,” Zareef said.
An earlier round of talks in April between various Afghan groups had been cancelled over disagreements on the size and composition of the official delegation. While the participation of government officials in the latest round of talks makes it different from earlier rounds, it remains to be seen if there is any possibility of a concrete agreement that may bring an end to 18 years of war. A recent report said that over 3,800 civilians had died in 2018, making it the bloodiest year of the war. At least 32,000 civilians have been killed in the last decade of the war.