A senior official in Afghanistan said Wednesday that a team of state representatives will begin formal peace negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar “early next week” to try to negotiate a political solution to the country’s long war.
Mustafa Mastoor, the Afghan Minister of Economy, said the peace process has “opened a new chapter of hope” in the war-torn country’s history and both sides needs to seize it. He was speaking to an online forum arranged by a Pakistan-based think tank, the Lahore Center For Peace Research (LCPR).
“Negotiations will hopefully start early next week. The Islamic Republic (of Afghanistan) side is fully prepared for a good and a positive start and expects the Taliban side to have the same intentions,” said the Afghan minister.
The much-awaited first ever formal peace talks between Afghan warring sides are a product of the agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban in February to close the nearly 19-year-old war with the Islamist insurgency and withdraw American troops from the country.
Mastoor stressed both sides will need to be ready for compromises to seize “the narrow window for peace” created after years of hostilities to help sustain the dialogue.
“Considering the global experience, they will start with easier issues, moving towards the tougher ones at the later stage. Knowing this noble goal, maximum flexibility and concessions will be needed by both sides,” the Afghan minister stressed.
Mastoor went on to caution that the level of exceptions in the run-up to the talks is “realistically low” considering the complexity of the war.
“A win win at the end of the process could be difficult but accommodation of a possible maximum views of both sides for an agreed efficient governance system are feasible and possible,” he said.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told VOA on Tuesday that his group stands by the agreement with the U.S. and will enter negotiations with an intention to find a solution to the Afghan war provided the other side also intends to do so, underscoring the deeply rooted mutual trust deficit.
The agreement calls on all American and coalition troops to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in return for the Taliban’s counterterrorism guarantees and a pledge to open negotiations with other Afghan groups.
The U.S. military drawdown has already started, bringing the number of U.S. troops from around 13,000 at the time of the singing of the deal to around 8,600. President Donald Trump has said there will be less than 5,000 troops left in Afghanistan by the November U.S. presidential elections.
The intra-Afghan talks were to be launched in early March but they were delayed because of a controversial prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban, as stipulated in the agreement.
Kabul has promised to release a last group of 400 Taliban prisoners this week that will conclude the swap, removing the last hurdle in the way to peace negotiations.