Prolonged talks between US and Taliban in Qatar are fueling optimism that a peace solution is possible. However, most questions are open and the violence continues unabated.

The current talks between US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad (article photo) and Taliban representatives in their political representation in Qatar, which began on Monday, are just the latest in a series of such meetings since last year. Khalilzad is said to have met at least four times with Taliban representatives. The meetings are intended to explore conditions for a ceasefire and ultimately a peace settlement. The Americans insist on including the elected Afghan government in such a solution; for the Taliban, in turn, a full US troop withdrawal is a conditio sine qua non for an agreement.

In parallel with all such diplomatic activities, the Taliban intensified their attacks on the Afghan security apparatus; Last Monday, almost at the same time as the recent talks began, they carried out one of the most massive attacks against the Afghan secret service. The numbers on the Afghan security forces killed in the suicide attack on the headquarters of the National Security Directorate (NSD) in Maidan Shar near Kabul are very divergent and could well exceed 150.

Afghanistan Maidan Wardak: Collapsed after car bomb roof of military base (Reuters / Stringer)

Collapsed roof after the car bomb attack on Intelligence Center

Threatening US troop withdrawal

In one respect, the current talks are taking place in different circumstances than the previous ones: US President Trump had announced in mid-December that he intended to withdraw half of the remaining 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan. An announcement by which Trump shocked both the Afghan partners and his NATO allies. Only the Taliban may have drawn additional moral support. Meanwhile, the Washington Post, citing several White House staff, reported that it would be a less drastic retreat, perhaps a quarter of the forces currently stationed, which is almost exactly what Trump authorized in August 2017 US troops in Afghanistan would match.

In any case, Trump seems determined to end the military mission in Afghanistan sooner rather than later. “The President is deeply frustrated at our lack of progress in Afghanistan,” the Post quotes Republican senator and Trump confidante Lindsey Graham: “But an immediate withdrawal would be a disaster, because Afghanistan is (still) at the center of the fight against the terror. “

Taliban |  Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (imago / Xinhua)

In the future, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will lead talks with the United States and ensure unity among the commanders

Diplomacy and fight

In fact, this fight is also being continued by the US side and the Afghan army, the Taliban can not carry out their attacks with impunity. According to Kabul, more than 60 Taliban workers were killed during joint operations by the Afghan army and US forces during the past weekend. However, such “notable successes” also show that they would not be possible without American air support.

While the violent clashes in the country continue with great severity, optimistic reports are coming from talks in far-off Qatar. The latter come only from the Taliban, the US side keeps itself covered. A positive sign is that the initial two-day talks have been extended by at least two days.

Pakistan Islamabad US Sen. Lindsey Graham (Getty Images / AFP / A. Quershi)

US Senator Lindsay Graham urges Trump to cooperate with Pakistan

Pakistan presents itself as an honest broker

In addition, a high-ranking member of the Taliban, who was released from Pakistani custody in October, will take over the negotiation on the part of the Taliban. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, long-time coordinator of operations in southern Afghanistan, was captured in a joint US-Pakistan intelligence operation in 2010. Baradar has the necessary authority to secure the support of as many Taliban commanders as possible for political talks, AP quoted an Afghan expert.

Allegedly, Baradar was called in at US request for talks because they wanted senior and influential Taliban interlocutors. The release of Barador and his expected participation in the talks in Qatar is also a sign of the new willingness to cooperate between Pakistan and the United States to reach a peace settlement for Afghanistan. “Now Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan, USA and virtually every regional participant pull together,” said the Pakistani Foreign Minister recently in a DW interview. His country sees itself as an enabler of dialogue between all sides.

Insight Davos 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting (Reuters / A. Wiegmann)

Afghanistan’s President Ghani at the World Economic Forum in Davos: US troop withdrawal is not the only cause of US-Taliban negotiations

Kabul still does not participate

However, the talks in Qatar, like all previous meetings, take place without the participation of Kabul. The Taliban have always insisted that all recent attempts, such as those of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, to bring about a meeting between representatives of Kabul and the Taliban, were able to thwart the latter.

The High Peace Council, which is responsible for the peace talks on Kabul’s side in the non-official function of the government, is optimistic about the current negotiations in Qatar: “The long duration of the talks means that the discussion is in a critical phase, and that the participants approach a positive result, “Reuters quotes the spokesman for the Peace Council in Kabul.

The only statements about the course of the talks come so far as said by the Taliban. Thus, both sides had a “heated exchange of arguments and counter-arguments.” Our delegation has made it clear that they will never allow Afghan territory to be used for attacks on any other country, “Reuters quotes a Taliban spokesman. This should be meant in return for a complete withdrawal of troops and the release of prisoners. A deal charged with many unknowns, if he came to terms. Even less clear is what an “inner-Afghan peace process” would look like.

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