US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators in Doha, calling on them to intensify their peace talks as Washington intensifies its military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
According to the US State Department, Pompeo called for “a significant reduction in violence and a political roadmap and a discussion on a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”.
America’s top diplomat met separately with the Afghan government and Taliban negotiation teams at a luxury hotel in the Qatari capital, and their encounters with radical Islamic rebels lasted for an hour.
His visit came in the wake of a rocket attack that struck densely populated areas of Kabul, killing at least eight people in the latest outbreak of violence in the Afghan capital. The Taliban denied responsibility and the Islamic State group claimed a fatal strike.
Pompeo said that in keeping with the common interest in such a scenario, I would be most interested in getting my thoughts on how we can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
He met the ruler of Qatar, Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, at his stop in Doha, the Taliban’s base for diplomacy.
But ahead of Pompeo’s departure, no breakthrough was announced in negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
He flew to Abu Dhabi for the next leg of his seven-nation tour to Europe and the Middle East, as President Donald Trump fulfilled long-term priorities.
Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation of the Afghanistan High Council, called the AFP “very close” to the government and the Taliban to break the deadlock in negotiations.
“We are close, we are very close. Hopefully we pass this phase and arrive at substantial issues including security,” he said during his visit to Turkey.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, intensifying the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban enforcing a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “wars forever,” including Afghanistan, America’s longest conflict, beginning with an invasion to displace the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks happened.
President-Elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement with Trump, also advocates airing the Afghanistan war, though analysts believe he will not be ready for a swift withdrawal.
The Taliban are talking to the government of Afghanistan for the first time.
Negotiations began in Doha on 12 September, but almost collapsed over disagreements over the agenda, the basic structure of the discussions and religious interpretations.
Several sources told AFP on Friday that both sides have settled some issues.
By far the most important points, the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to agree on common language on two main issues.
The Taliban, who are Sunni fundamentalists, have been insisting on following the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but government negotiators say it could have been used to discriminate against Hazrat, who was primarily from Shia and Afghanistan Others are in the minority.
Another controversial topic is how the US-Taliban deal will shape the future Afghan peace deal and how it will be referred to.
The Doha peace talks came after the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February, in which the US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces to guarantee security, and the Taliban promised to resume negotiations.
Despite the talks, violence in Afghanistan has increased, with the Taliban escalating daily attacks against Afghan security forces.
Trump’s plan to exorcise troops by January 15 – his successor Joe Biden to take the oath of office in less than a week – has been criticized in Afghanistan.
Saturday’s strike on the Afghan capital saw a barrage of rocket slams in various parts of central and north Kabul – including heavily fortified green zones and houses and international firms around it.
The Islamic State group said in a statement that 28 Katyusha rockets were fired by “Khilafat soldiers”.
Afghanistan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Ariyan had previously blamed the Taliban, saying that “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets. However, the Taliban denied responsibility, stating that they “do not fire indiscriminately in public places”.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)