Afghan peace talk: Afghan peace council chief says 'misery' in Afghanistan will end if two sides join hands

DOHA (REUTERS, AFP) – The head of Afghanistan’s peace council, Mr Abdullah Abdullah, said on Saturday (Sept 12) that if the Afghan government and Taleban insurgents came together, they could finally strike a peace deal to end decades of conflict.

“I believe that if we give hands to each other and honestly work for peace, the current ongoing misery in the country will end,” Mr Abdullah told the opening ceremony of peace talks at a hotel in Doha.

The talks aimed at ending 19 years of war in Afghanistan are scheduled to commence on Sunday in the Qatari capital.

The Taleban’s co-founder and political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar reiterated his group’s demand for Afghanistan to adopt an “Islamic system” as peace talks with the Afghan government began in Doha.

“I want all to consider Islam in their negotiations and agreements and not to sacrifice Islam to personal interests,” said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who spent eight years in Pakistani custody.

At the ceremony, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged warring Afghan sides to seize the opportunity to strike a peace deal.

“The choice of your future political system is yours to make,” he said, adding that he hoped the solution would protect the rights of all Afghan and protect social progress, including the presence of women in public life.

“I cannot strongly enough urge you, seize this opportunity, he added.

The talks will require hard work and sacrifice, but through them an endurable peace is possible, Mr Pompeo said of the 19-year war, which has vexed three US presidents.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, foreign minister of host Qatar, said the long-warring parties “must make the decisive decision in line with the current challenges and rise above all form of division… by reaching an agreement on the basis of no victor and no vanquished.

Officials, diplomats and analysts say that although getting both sides to the negotiating table was an achievement, this does not mean the path to peace will be easy.

“The negotiations will have to tackle a range of profound questions about the kind of country Afghans want,” Ms Deborah Lyons, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, told the UN Security Council this month.

The opening ceremony comes one day after the 19th anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that triggered its military involvement in Afghanistan.

US forces intervened in Afghanistan on the orders of then President George W. Bush a month after the attacks to hunt down their mastermind, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi who had been given sanctuary by the country’s radical Islamist Taleban rulers.

US forces initially offered mainly air support to the Taleban’s local enemies.

Although the Taleban regime was quickly toppled, they regrouped and have since waged an insurgency that has sucked in Afghanistan’s neighbours and troops from dozens of countries, including Nato forces.

Negotiations to broker a comprehensive peace deal were envisaged in a troop withdrawal pact signed between the US and the Taleban in February.

After months of delay, a dispute over the Taleban’s demand for the release of 5,000 prisoners was resolved this week.

Ahead of the US presidential election in November, President Donald Trump is looking to show progress in his pledge to end US involvement and pull out most of the foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The US has reduced its troop levels and by November is expected to have fewer than 5,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, down from about 13,000 when the US-Taleban deal was signed.

Since 2001, more than 2,300 US troops and about 450 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan.

A European diplomat in Kabul said that a ceasefire – which the Taleban have so far rejected – should top the talks’ agenda.

“The Taleban leaders will have to stop fighters from attacking Afghan forces and civilians, violence continues to degrade the atmosphere and potentially derail negotiations,” the diplomat said.

How to include the Taleban, who reject the legitimacy of the Western-backed Afghan government, in any governing arrangement and how to safeguard the rights of women and minorities who suffered under Taleban rule are big challenges, experts said.

Nevertheless many diplomats, victims of violence and members of civil society say negotiations are the only realistic way to bring an end to a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 civilians and hampered Afghanistan’s development, leaving millions in poverty.

“Solutions will not be found on the battlefield, we know this,” Ms Lyons said.

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