ISLAMABAD: The Taliban and the United States will continue their peace talks in Qatar on Sunday, as they try to resolve the protracted conflict in Afghanistan through a negotiated settlement.
The two sides restarted formal peace negotiations on Saturday, the first such initiative after President Donald Trump’s decision to call off talks in early September, an American official privy to the developments, told Arab News.
Trump’s earlier decision to halt talks came in reaction to the deaths of 12 people, including a US soldier, in a Taliban-induced bomb attack in Kabul.
“The US rejoined talks today in Doha. The focus of the discussions will be reduction of violence that leads to intra-Afghan negotiations and a cease-fire,” the official said.
In a Twitter post, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen also confirmed the resumption of talks and said they would continue on Sunday.
"The talks started from where they were stopped. We discussed signing of the agreement. Talks will continue tomorrow (Sunday),” Shaheen tweeted.
Shaheen also said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban political office, led the Taliban side during negotiations.
In a separate tweet, Shaheen said Anas Haqqani, who was among the three Taliban leaders freed in a high profile prisoner swap earlier this month, had also joined talks as a member of the Taliban negotiating team.
The peace talks, which began last year, aimed at striking a deal with the Taliban to allow the 18 year war in Afghanistan to end. This would involve the withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the insurgents’ guarantee of a cease-fire and that they would not use Afghanistan to launch attacks on other countries.
Earlier on Wednesday, the State Department had said that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, would be discussing next steps with the Taliban for intra-Afghan negotiations and “a peaceful settlement of the war, specifically a reduction in violence that leads to a cease-fire.”
A day later, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News that formal peace negotiations would resume with the US in a few days.
This followed Khalilzad’s meetings with Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and several political leaders in Kabul on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the presidential palace issued a statement saying that the meeting would focus on “the cease-fire and Taliban hideouts outside the
President Ghani told Khalilzad that both issues should be taken seriously in order to take the peace process forward.
The Taliban and the US had finalized the peace agreement in August – at the conclusion of the ninth round of talks –but the signing of the deal was blocked after Trump’s abrupt decision to call off negotiations.