Talks between the Taliban and Kabul government to bring peace to Afghanistan resumed in Doha on Wednesday, the insurgent side said, amid surging violence and accusations of slow progress.
Months of deliberations between the two parties have yielded little so far, although an agreement on what to discuss in the next round was viewed as a breakthrough.
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In early December, negotiators from both sides decided to take a break after months of often frustrating meetings that were bogged down by disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
“The second round of intra-Afghan talks started this evening during a preparatory meeting,” spokesman for the Taliban’s Doha office Mohammad Naeem tweeted on Wednesday.
“In the meeting, it was decided that the teams appointed by the two sides to discuss the agenda topics would begin their work next Saturday to discuss the issues on the agenda.”
Afghan government negotiators will push for a permanent ceasefire and to protect existing governance arrangements - in place since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 by a US-led invasion following the September 11 terror attacks that year.
The talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been marred by an increase in violence from the start, but the conflict-hit country has seen a recent spate of high-profile targeted killings of officials, activists and journalists.
The deputy governor for Kabul province, five journalists and a prominent election activist are among those assassinated in Kabul and other cities since November.
Afghan officials blame the Taliban for the killings, but the hardline group has denied the charge, while the rival ISIS group says its fighters were responsible for some of them.
Ahmad Zia Siraj, Afghanistan’s spy chief, told parliament Monday, “we believe the Taliban are planning to drag the talks (out) until the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in the month of May”.
“We do not see the Taliban has any intention or will for peace,” he said.
Under the landmark deal signed between the Taliban and Washington in February 2020, the US pledged to pull out all foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.
US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has called for increased pace to talks as Washington pushes for more progress in the negotiations as the curtain falls on President Donald Trump’s presidency.