DOHA, KABUL: At the close of their first major talks, Afghan delegates and the Taliban agreed on a plan for peace and “minimizing civilian casualties to zero.”
The resolution, after two days of dialogue, was issued late on Monday.
There remains, however, no sign of the Taliban directly engaging in negotiations with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has been excluded from various rounds of talks between the group and US diplomats, led by Zalmay Khalilzad.
The Taliban have called Ghani’s embattled administration a “US puppet.” Khalilzad said in Doha that substantial progress had been made between the militants and the US, but that the subject of negotiations remained “sensitive.”
Taliban sources, however, told Arab News both sides continue to differ over a time frame for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “If there is no threat to the US from Afghan soil, and if Afghans do not want US forces to stay in Afghanistan, we are ready to give up Afghanistan militarily,” Khalilzad said on Monday.
Afghan delegates reportedly accepted Taliban demands to approve a resolution adopted during the Moscow intra-Afghan conference in February.
It called for the complete withdrawal of US forces from the country, the lifting of international sanctions on senior Taliban leaders, the release of prisoners and the recognition of the Taliban’s political offices in Doha.
Spokesman Suhail Shaheen described the Doha resolution as a “victory” for the group, adding: “Our official policy is to avoid civilian casualties.”
Government representative Ahmad Nadir Nadri said the delegates from Kabul gave up some of their demands to keep the peace process on track, telling reporters that face-to-face talks with the Taliban enabled them to defend the constitution, democracy, and the basic rights of the Afghan people.
The call to end civilian casualties came days after deadly attacks in Ghazni and Kabul killed and injured dozens of civilians, including school children.
“There were frank and emotional exchanges,” Hekmat Khalil Karzai, a former diplomat and one of the participants, said in a statement.
“All cried when a brave woman shared our collective pain and held everyone accountable … the dialogue brought us closer and also gave us a better understanding of the issues at stake.”
The Qatar meeting is the first time officials of Ghani’s government have taken part in direct negotiations with the group. Khalilzad, who is expected to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Tuesday, tweeted that the meeting “gives hope for further progress to end years of war and terrible suffering of (the) Afghan people.”
The resolution stated that: “All Afghans are committed to a united and Islamic country, putting aside all ethnic differences. Afghanistan shall not witness another war. The international community, regional and internal elements shall respect Afghans’ values accordingly.
“In order to facilitate effective intra-Afghan talks, the warring parties should avoid threats, revenge and conflicting words.”
However, despite the statement, fighting has continued between Taliban and government forces across the country.
Writer and analyst Zubair Shafiqi said that though the resolution was not binding, the meeting was a success.
“The fact that they pushed for reduction of violence, the release of prisoners and a halt to attacks on certain places is progress,” he told Arab News.
Fazl Rahman Orya, another analyst, said the meeting: “laid a good foundation for future genuine peace talks.”
“This can be used as pillar or foundation for future talks between Afghans, where we will have the world as guarantors. It was really a very good start,” he said.