WASHINGTON: Both Taliban and Afghan government officials said on Monday that dozens of women would attend the next round of Doha peace talks, which formally begin on April 19, although the Afghan media reported that initial talks had already started.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid telephoned reporters in Kabul on Monday and told them that “there will be women in the Taliban delegation in Doha”.
Earlier on Monday, Afghan government officials announced in Kabul that they were close to finalising the list of a 150-member delegation which would attend the Doha meeting later this week. The delegation will include “dozens of women,” the officials added.
An Afghan news agency, Tolo, reported that US and Taliban delegations had arrived in Doha on Monday for initial talks, although the formal meeting would begin on April 19. The report claimed that chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had also reached the Qatari capital.
The talks would focus on persuading the Taliban to call off their spring offensive against the Afghan government and US forces and to declare a comprehensive ceasefire, the report added.
In a series of tweets released on Monday, Mr Khalilzad confirmed that he was now focusing on arranging a comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan but did not say if the initial talks had already started.
“The Afghan people deserve and want a comprehensive ceasefire and negotiations leading to a lasting peace. The US stands with them,” he wrote.
“The quickest way to prevent casualties is to agree to a ceasefire. Taliban senior leadership should allow their representatives to come to the table and discuss. I will continue to press the case,” he added.
At a news conference last month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had hinted that the next round of Doha talks might started earlier than scheduled and could lead to “a logical conclusion”.
“It is expected that the sixth round of talks will kick off on April 15. We hope that the meeting will have good results and we hope that this round of talks reaches a logical conclusion,” he said. “Its logical conclusion is peace and stability in the region and we will cooperate in this regard,” he added.
“For a group notorious for its strictly conservative attitude to women’s rights, the move represents a step towards addressing demands that women be included in the talks,” wrote the Reuters news agency while commenting on the Taliban’s decision to include women in their team.
“These women have no family relationship with the senior members of the Taliban,” said Taliban spokesman Mujahid in a telephone call to Reuters. “They are normal Afghans, from inside and outside the country, who have been supporters and part of the struggle of the Islamic Emirate.” He did not name the women who will be included in this team.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019