Afghan gov’t, Taliban dialogue in Doha raises hope for lasting peace

-Afghan peace negotiators gather in Doha
-Pakistan welcomes Intra-Afghan peace talks
-Pompeo lands in Doha to initiate peace talks
-Khalilzad says dialogue is test for both sides

KABUL: The Afghan government negotiation team traveling to Qatar’s capital Doha on Friday to hold direct talks with the Taliban outfit has raised the ray of hope among Afghans towards peace in their country.
“I am very happy today to see government peace delegation going to Doha for talks with Taliban to end the war in the country,” 41-year-old Kabul resident Karimullah Khan said.
Khan lamented that the prolonged war and militancy had destroyed his life and claimed the lives of his family members and relatives.
The much-awaited intra-Afghan dialogue is scheduled to open in Doha at a ceremony to be attended by senior officials from different countries including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and senior officials from the host country Qatar.
The 21-member negotiated team headed by Afghan former spy chief Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai left Kabul for Doha on Friday afternoon to hold talks with the Taliban group to find a negotiated solution to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
“This is a historic day. I am hopeful that the talks could lead to ending the war and restoring lasting peace in Afghanistan,” Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said before embarking the plane for Doha.
The continued militancy and conflicts almost claim the lives of Afghans including civilians everyday. At least four dozens, mostly militants have been killed in the country over the past 24 hours, according to security officials. A deadly bomb attack targeting the motorcade of Afghan First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh on Wednesday slightly injured the vice president but claimed more than a dozen lives and injured score of others.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Doha on Friday, ahead of “historic” long-awaited Afghan peace negotiations scheduled to launch the following day.
“It’s taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning … to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward,” Pompeo told reporters shortly after taking off from Washington on Thursday evening. “(It’s) truly historic.”
The Trump administration has been attempting to usher the Taliban and Afghan government towards negotiations, which would pave the way for the United States to finally withdraw from its longest war and hand President Donald Trump an important foreign policy success ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election. United States Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told journalists on a conference call on Friday that the negotiations would be a “test for both sides.” “This is a new phase in diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan. Now we are entering a process that is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led,” he said, adding that the United States would continue to monitor and engage with both sides.
Earlier, a team representing the Afghan government flew from Kabul to Doha for the inauguration ceremony.
“Today, we depart to Doha with hopes and self confidence to create a condition in Afghanistan where guns are silent and the values of (the) republic are consolidated and Afghan people achieve what they deserve,” said senior negotiator Nader Nadery, part of the team that left Kabul on a commercial airliner. After Saturday’s events, actual talks are expected to begin between the Afghan government representatives and the Taliban, as envisaged in a February agreement between the militant group the United States.
Pompeo’s arrival in Doha on Friday coincided with the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States that triggered U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who harboured Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda militant leader who plotted the attacks.
A diplomatic source in Kabul said the start of talks had been arranged to ensure it did not fall on the anniversary. A jet picked up six prisoners demanded by the Taliban from Kabul on Thursday. Some Western governments had objected to their release, and as a compromise it was agreed that they would be kept under supervision in Qatar.
“This was an Afghan decision, a decision that was difficult, but necessary,” Khalilzad told reporters. France and Australia said overnight that they objected to the prisoners being released from Afghan prisons.
Moreover, Welcoming the momentous intra-Afghan peace talks to be held in Qatar starting Saturday, the Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his contentment in a statement on Friday. “Finally, our combined efforts have brought forth the day,” PM Khan tweeted welcoming the inception of long-awaited talks.