Intra-Afghan peace talks to kick off next week, Abdullah says

Kabul, Aug 27 (efe-epa).- The chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah said on Thursday that peace negotiations between the government and the Taliban could kick off next week, after a delay of more than five months.

“I can say with relative confidence that the intra-Afghan negotiations will begin next week” Abdullah, who is in-charge of the government’s peace efforts, said at a gathering in Kabul

He said the government’s negotiation team was prepared for discussions to ensure “a just, dignified and lasting peace” with an emphasis on “preservation of the values and achievement” gained with the sacrifices of the people, referring to the progress made by the country in the past 19 years after the ousting of a Taliban regime.

“Afghan people want peace and are ready to give sacrifices and make difficult decisions. At the same time, (…) they also have concerns,” said Abdullah.

The leader did not announce a specific date for the first round of talks, which is set to take place in Qatar’s capital Doha.

Taliban spokespersons were not immediately available for comment on the announcement.

Abdullah’s remarks come just a day after Taliban’s chief negotiator Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, in an interview, urged the Afghan government to come to the negotiation table, so that the two side can soon agree on “a permanent ceasefire and peace.”

Stanekzai’s remarks signaled an apparent policy shift in Taliban’s stance regarding the peace talks.

Earlier the rebels had often said they would only accept Afghan government as one of the several political sides or parties in the talks and not as the main negotiating party.

The talks between Kabul and Taliban have been delayed by over five months from their original starting date of March 10 as per the provisions of the US-Taliban agreement signed in Doha on Feb. 29.

The slow and contentious prisoner swap between the two sides has been one of the main obstacles in the peace process.

The government is yet to release 320 of the 5,000 militants it was expected to free as per the US-Taliban deal, having recently released 80 of the 400 prisoners it had held back for weeks over their criminal record.

The Taliban claim to have completed the release of all 1,000 government detainees as per the deal, which had laid down the prisoner-swap as a precursor to intra-Afghan talks. EFE-EPA


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