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AfghanTaliban-US officials struggling to remove differences on certain key issues

11 March, 2019

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Afghan Taliban and the US officials are struggling to remove differences on certain key issues in the ongoing peace talks in Qatar as both sides have not yet reached any deal despite their earlier claims of progress, people familiar with the process said late Thursday.

Taliban sources said that Abdul Manan Akhund, brother of Mullah Omar, reached Qatar on Wednesday and joined the Taliban’s 14-member negotiation team. Akhund’s participation has further strengthened the Taliban team with six members from the powerful leadership council.

The Taliban and the US are tight lipped about the difficulties in the talks and both sides have agreed not to share anything about the parley underway at Doha’s posh Sharq neighborhood. The Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen is even kept out of most of the meetings to avoid any leak, a Taliban negotiator has said.

The current round had started on Feb. 25 and the talks continued on 11th day on Thursday, Taliban sources said. There was a two-day break in the current round for internal discussions. The present round is the longest since the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad opened talks with the Taliban in October.

Both sides had first sitting in July when US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Ambassador Alice Wells met with the Taliban political envoys in Doha.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said this week that the talks are focused on the “withdrawal of occupying forces and preventing Afghanistan from being used against others” and that the “talks are advancing on a step-by-step basis.”

Sources say the Taliban insist on the announcement of a timeframe for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, the US side wants all issues, including a ceasefire by the Taliban and their agreement to start negotiations with the Kabul administration.

In a series of background interviews Daily Times understands the US is seemed unwilling to strike a deal on the Taliban terms as it would give an impression that they have surrendered to the Taliban. On their part, Taliban are reluctant to show flexibility on their demand for the withdrawal of the foreign troops.

On the question of the talks with the Afghan government, the Taliban argue that they have already joined intra-Afghan dialogue with senior political leaders and parties in Moscow last month. A second meeting of the Moscow’s intra-Afghan dialogue is scheduled to be held in Qatar later this month, but lack of progress in the ongoing US-Taliban talks could delay the Moscow’s negotiations.

As the Taliban interaction with the Afghan politicians gained momentum, Khlalizad is also now positive about Moscow led Afghan diaspora effort and he had discussions on the process with Russian special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov in Istanbul last month. The US had earlier pursued solo flight, but now it is now involved in consultations with all stakeholders.

The sense in Islamabad is: there cannot be a further development without involvement of the National Unity Government in Kabul and other Afghan groups. The impression here is the US and Taliban have already achieved whatever they could do together.

On the other hand the Afghan gov’t has said it is in the process of the formation of a negotiation team with Taliban and has requested the Afghan political leaders to nominate members for the team. Presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri has said in Kabul that the team will be announced after the parties share names of their representatives.

Earlier, Afghan gov’t had announced a 12-member negotiation team for talks with the Taliban in November last year. Taliban, however; refused to meet the team that was headed by presidential chief of staff Salam Rahimi.

As regional countries are showing interest in the peace process, Uzbekistan is seen active to play important role in political process.

Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Kamolov and Uzbekistan Special Envoy to Afghanistan Ismatullah met the Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar last week.

The Taliban spokesman later said the Uzbek delegation showed willing that they are “ready to lend every type of assistance regarding peace in Afghanistan.”

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