Both Taliban and Afghan officials have attempted to downplay expectations concerning unofficial face-to-face two-day discussions scheduled to take place in Qatar on Sunday.
The consultative meeting, which both sides have made a point of denying that it constitutes a resumption of peace talks, is part of an initiative launched by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Pugwash Council, a global organization that promotes dialogue to resolve conflicts.
Under the arrangements, member of the Afghanistan’s High Peace Council are set to meet Taliban representatives in the presence of certain observers. The Afghan High Peace Council however, has made it clear that its members are participating in this discussion in their personal capacity, hence, it did not meant the official start of peace talks.
Muhammad Ismael Qasimyar, member of the Afghan High Peace Council told The Anadolu Agency that two members of the council, Maulvi Attaullah Lodin and Shahzada Shahid, would participate in the discussions.
“These two men will not be there to talk about the (framework) for official talks," he said. "They are just there to share views on peace in individual capacity”, he said.
The Taliban too have made it clear that this round of talks was just for consultation purposes.
Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, issued a list of eight representatives that would participate in the discussions. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the former Taliban health minister, was named as the head of delegation.
This is the third time that the Taliban will be attending a conference along with the representatives of the Kabul government. The Taliban political council’s members had earlier attended similar meetings in France and Japan but they had not engaged in direct talks with the Afghan government.
Waheed Muzda, a political analyst, said this consultative meeting alone would not leave a lasting impact on the situation on the ground.
“Leaders of the National Government of Unity i.e. President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah must get over their differences over petty issues and come to a conclusion over the core issue of peace dialogue with the Taliban,” Muzda said.
He went on to say that the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. had aggravated the chances for an early resumption of peace talks with the Taliban.
Matiullah Abasin, an Afghan political analyst, said that, though they were taking place in a relatively informal setting, the discussions could serve as a stepping-stone for future potential negotiations.
“It is true that the Kabul government and the U.S. have not given (the Pugwash-sponsored talks in Qatar) much importance but it is a good launching pad (…) for future formal talks”, he viewed.
On Saturday, President Ghani said peace was the ultimate desire of the nation. Addressing a ceremony to mark the 23rd anniversary of the fall of pro-Soviet regime, Ghani urged religious leaders to unanimously condemn terrorism.
“We have strong faith in peace and will do our best to get it,” Ghani said.
During the same event, Abdullah Abdullah said Afghans must also be prepared for conflicts to last.
“Unfortunately, war would continue alongside the peace talks, Afghans must also be ready for it,” he said.
Just over a month ago, the Taliban announced the launch of their spring offensives in Afghanistan.
Dubbed “Azm,” which means determination, the offensives were aimed to continue till the “complete departure of the foreign troops from Afghanistan.”
The latest statement from the Taliban came amid somewhat longstanding efforts to engage them for peace talks. President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani has sought the help of neighboring Pakistan, China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to persuade the Taliban to join the negotiations table.
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