Afghan negotiators set to get to the heart of the matter

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The Afghan government and the Taliban are preparing on Sunday to get to the heart of the matter on the second day of their peace talks in Doha, with the search for a permanent ceasefire as their main subject.

At the inaugural ceremony on Saturday, the government and its allies, including the United States, insisted on a ceasefire.

But the Taliban who have been fighting the government and the United States since being ousted from power in 2001 have not mentioned a truce.

However, the head of the peace process on the government side, Abdullah Abdullah, told AFP that the Taliban could agree to a ceasefire in exchange for a new operation to release prisoners.

“It is possible” that the Taliban are considering this option, said Mr. Abdullah, while 5,000 insurgents have already been released by Kabul against a thousand members of the Afghan forces as part of an exchange provided for in the US agreement. Taliban signed in February, already in Doha.

A ceasefire “could be one of their ideas or their requests,” added the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation.

“We will undoubtedly face many challenges in the talks in the coming days, weeks and months,” admitted on Saturday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had traveled to Doha for the opening of the talks, in urging both sides to “seize the opportunity” to make peace for future generations.

Nineteen years after the international intervention led by the United States in the wake of the deadly attacks of September 11, 2001, and which ousted the Taliban from power, the war still kills dozens of people daily.

As technical committees from both sides were due to meet on Sunday to work out an agenda for the talks, violence broke out on the ground.

– First “very positive” meeting –

According to officials, six police officers were killed overnight in a Taliban attack in Kunduz (north), while five officers perished in another, in Kapisa province, near the capital.

The explosion of an artisanal mine in Kabul injured two civilians and another explosion in the same town left no casualties.

Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar recalled during the opening ceremony the insurgents’ desire to see Afghanistan governed by an “Islamic system” where the law would be dictated by a rigorous Islam.

Conversely, the government of President Ashraf Ghani insists on maintaining the young republic and its Constitution, which enshrined many rights, in particular for religious minorities and women, who would be the big losers if a return to the practices in force were to be found. under the yoke of the Taliban (1996-2001).

Mr. Ghani called, in a statement, for “a lasting and dignified peace” preserving “the achievements of the last 19 years”.

Four women are among the 21 government negotiators, against no Taliban side.

The first meeting was “very positive”, noted Habiba Sarabi, one of the negotiators.

The US-backed peace talks had been delayed for six months due to disagreements over the prisoner exchange negotiated in February.

The Afghan conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, including 2,400 American soldiers, and caused millions to flee. It cost Washington more than a trillion dollars.

Many Afghans fear the return to power – partial or total – of the Taliban, in a position of strength in these negotiations after their agreement with the United States and who already control half of the Afghan territory.

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