US has 'power to exert pressure' on both Afghan sides to broker peace, analyst tells FRANCE 24
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American diplomats held face-to-face talks with a Taliban delegation in Qatar last week, according to Taliban officials. The move marks a reversal in longstanding US policy against negotiating with extremist groups.
The meeting between a delegation led by Alice Wells, the US top diplomat for South Asia, and Taliban representatives was first reported in The Wall Street Journal but has not been officially confirmed.
According to one Taliban official, who said he was part of a four-member delegation, there were "very positive signals" from the meeting, which he said was conducted in a "friendly atmosphere" in a Doha hotel.
"You can't call it peace talks," he said. "These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue."
He said the talks had been held without the presence of Afghan government officials at the insistence of the Taliban.
The move comes as the Afghan government and the United States have stepped up efforts to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan following the unprecedented three-day truce during last month's Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The truce, which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with soldiers on the streets of Kabul and other cities, offered the first concrete vision of a peace settlement since an earlier attempt at peace talks broke down in 2015.
“The Taliban is ready for this. They know that the Afghans are tired. The three-day ceasefire has proven that Afghans are thirsty for peace,” Afghan political analyst Wahed Faqiri told FRANCE 24. “There is pressure on the Taliban to come to the table and to resolve this nonsense war that has been going on for 17 years. There is no benefit for anyone in this war. There is pressure on all sides to come to the table.”
Although the Taliban refused an offer by President Ashraf Ghani to extend the Eid ceasefire, behind-the-scenes contacts have continued and the government has said it is considering another ceasefire during next month's Eid-al Qurban holiday.
As hopes of possible formal negotiations have risen, the United States has agreed to participate directly in the talks, although it insists the process will remain under Afghan leadership.
Ghani's main spokesman Haroon Chakansuri said last week that peace talks would be Afghan-led and would build on international consensus in support of peace.
But the ball, Faqiri said, is in the US court. “If the US is really serious, if it wants peace, then it has the power to exert pressure on the Afghan sides to come to the table and agree to a settlement. The US must play a very important role in this.”
Another source with knowledge of the talks said the United States had pressed the Taliban side to accept the ceasefire offer for Eid-ul Adha, often known in Afghanistan as Eid-al Qurban, which this year starts on Aug. 22.
"So a long-term ceasefire is expected on Eid-ul Adha," the source said. "Both sides agreed upon the continuation of the meetings and talks and another meeting is expected before Eid, but the exact time and place is not clear yet."
The State Department confirmed that Wells had visited Doha but has said only that she met United Arab Emirates government officials, including the deputy prime minister, to talk about their contributions to the situation in Afghanistan.
Many are eager for progress before this fall's long-delayed parliamentary elections. The elections have been postponed repeatedly over fears of fraud and Taliban reprisals against voters.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)