Taliban say peace talks with Afghan team to start Saturday


FILE – In this Aug. 19, 2019, file photo, a man waves an Afghan flag during Independence Day celebrations in Kabul, Afghanistan. Officials on both sides of Afghanistan’s protracted conflict say efforts are ramping up for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, a critical next step to a U.S. negotiated peace deal with the Taliban. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The long-awaited peace talks with the negotiating team selected by the Afghan government are to begin on Saturday in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, the Taliban said in a statement on Thursday.

The start of negotiations was was also announced by Qatar’s foreign ministry and Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed in a tweet that their delegation will be in Qatar’s capital of Doha for the talks.

The talks — known as intra-Afghan negotiations — were laid out in a peace deal that Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in February, also in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

That deal aims to end Afghanistan’s protracted war and bring American troops home while the intra-Afghan talks are to set a road map for a post-war society in Afghanistan.

The negotiations are expected to be a difficult process as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting the rights of women and minorities. The fate of the tens of thousands of armed Taliban, as well as militias loyal to government-allied warlords, will also be on the agenda, along with constitutional changes for Afghanistan.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the U.S.-Taliban deal signed on Feb. 29, has been in Doha for the past week, trying to push the talks forward.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops are not dependent on the success of the negotiations but rather on commitments taken by the Talian under the deal with the U.S. to fight other militant groups, most specifically the Islamic State group, and to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a staging ground for attacks on the United States or its allies.

Washington and NATO have already begun withdrawing troops and by November America expects to have less than 5,000 troops still in Afghanistan.

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