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Afghan peace talks begins: Pressure from US mounts

Bloomberg Doha | Updated on September 12, 2020 Published on September 12, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo   -  REUTERS

Our commitment to reduce our forces to zero is conditioned on them executing their obligations under the agreement, says US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Afghanistan’s government began peace talks with Taliban leaders on Saturday in a bid to end two decades of war in a meeting fraught with tension over what the insurgent group will demand in return for laying down its arms.

There is concern the militants may seek to ban education for girls and women, according to former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while other policy makers are worried the Taliban may want to control defence forces.

We will never accept any move to abolish women’s education or wind back their hard won gains in politics or business, Karzai said in an interview at his home in Kabul. I want my daughters to be as educated as the best in the world.

I can tell you with confidence that the history of our country will welcome and remember today as the end of the war and suffering of our people, Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said at the opening of the conference.

He called for the talks to achieve a humanitarian cease-fire, and cited women's rights and freedom among the great gains in the 19 years since the fall of the Taliban.

There is immense pressure on all parties in the talks, due to begin in Doha, with United States (US)Secretary of State Michael Pompeo indicating American troop levels in Afghanistan would depend on the Taliban upholding its commitments with the US regardless of the outcome of negotiations.

Our commitment to reduce our forces to zero is conditioned on them executing their obligations under the agreement, Pompeo said on the way to Qatar. He declined to say whether the Trump administration would wait for an accord before withdrawing all US forces.

Durable peace

In his opening remarks in Doha on Saturday, Pompeo said that a durable peace is possible, and that the US was not seeking to impose its system on others and that the talks should produce a political arrangement that accommodates competing views.

I cannot strongly enough urge you, seize this opportunity. Protect this process, respect each other, be patient, remain focused on the mission, he said Were prepared to support this negotiation if you ask. This time is yours, I pray that you seize this moment.

While the developments are a ray of hope for Afghans battered by years of attacks that have killed and maimed tens of thousands of people, the two sides face an uphill task at reaching a consensus. A pact between the US and the Taliban that will result in the withdrawal of majority of American troops has emboldened the insurgent group prompting it to raise the stakes.

For the Taliban, the peace process is to show the world that they were victorious in war, said Orzala Ashraf Nemat, director of Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a Kabul-based think tank. I am not optimistic because the Taliban may take over power, and the groups stance regarding women rights and its governance has not changed.

The insurgents banned girls education, barred women from public jobs and even punished people for watching television when they ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, citing their interpretation of Islamic rules. Under Karzai’s 14-year leadership, millions of Afghan girls went back to school and many others have held political jobs.

The talks between President Ashraf Ghani’s administration and the Taliban follow the February US-Taliban accord. The US agreed to withdraw its troops within 14 months, while the militant group pledged to stop attacking American forces and prevent the nation from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

The Taliban rebuffed calls to stop raiding Afghan troops under the pact. The insurgents only acquiesced to talks with Afghan officials after Ghani released all 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban wants to bring back its rule of strict Islamic theocracy, while Ghani is pushing to share the power with the group under a democratic system. Former President Karzai urged both sides to end fighting and work for a power-sharing agreement.

I have called the Taliban brothers repeatedly for the last 12 and 13 years and I was criticized for this because there was so much violence, Karzai said. The fact is the Taliban belong to this country as we belong to this country and we want brothers to end fighting.

The Afghan war, one of the deadliest in the world, has resulted in the deaths of 17,461 people, with 32,337 wounded since 2009, when the United Nations (UN began recording the violence. Most casualties are attributed to the Taliban’s ground engagements and suicide attacks, followed by US and Afghan government aerial bombings, the report said.

The fighting has also killed about 2,500 US soldiers and more than 1,000 forces from NATO, according to icasualties.org which tracks their casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. The death toll for Afghan forces is higher, with Ghani saying last year more than 45,000 soldiers were killed just in the four years since he took office. The two-decade war also cost the US more than $900 billion.

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Published on September 12, 2020
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