KABUL: The next round of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government would be held in Qatar from next month, a top official said on Sunday, despite President Ashraf Ghani’s recent calls for them to be moved home.
Peace talks began on September 12 at a luxury hotel in Doha, but negotiations are currently on a break until January 5.
“The second round of talks will begin on January 5 in Doha,” said Faraidoon Khwazoon, spokesman for Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which is leading the peace process in the country.
“The leadership committee of the council... decided to hold the talks in Doha,” he tweeted, adding that many of the countries that had earlier volunteered to host the talks withdrew their offers because of Covid-19.
Pakistan reiterated its firm commitment for lasting peace in Afghanistan as the peace process “makes encouraging progress” and urged the two sides “to avoid accusations and to demonstrate wisdom”.
In a statement, meanwhile, the Afghan presidency tweeted that Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the council for national reconciliation, held a meeting on Sunday.
The two “discussed the venue for the next round of talks” after which Ghani announced the government’s support for a second stage of talks with the Taliban, the presidency said.
Earlier in December, negotiators from both sides decided to take a break after months of often frustrating meetings which were bogged down by disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Prior to going on the break, negotiators finally announced they were ready to proceed on preliminary lists of agenda items when talks resumed on January 5.
But Ghani and some other top Afghan officials immediately called for the next round of meetings to be held in Afghanistan.
“It is not appropriate to insist on holding talks in luxurious hotels. It is necessary that the people see how the talks happen, which issues are focused on and why,” Ghani said soon after the break in talks was announced.
The Taliban did not comment on Ghani’s call, but they have in the past always refused to hold the negotiations in Afghanistan.
The insurgent group has a political office in Doha and its negotiating team resides there.
Plans for renewed negotiations come amid a surge of violence across Afghanistan in recent months, including in Kabul, which has seen regular bomb attacks and targeted killings of prominent figures.
In a statement spokesperson for the Foreign Office in Islamabad said: “While Pakistan’s efforts are acknowledged and appreciated by the Afghan society and the international community, we are concerned about some negative comments which continue to emanate from certain official as well as unofficial Afghan circles.”
He said Pakistan would continue to emphasise the mutually agreed fundamental principle that all bilateral issues, including security and intelligence matters, should be addressed through relevant bilateral forums and channels.
The spokesperson said appropriate institutional forums were in place for such discourses in the relevant working groups of Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity.
During the current year, the spokesperson said, Pakistan’s long-held position was vindicated and its efforts facilitated some breakthroughs in the peace process, including the US-Taliban peace agreement on Feb 29; commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations on Sept 12; and agreement among Afghan parties on the rules and procedures for talks on Dec 2.
The FO spokesperson said as the negotiations enter a delicate phase, it is important for the negotiating parties to avoid accusations and to demonstrate wisdom, sagacity and vision for the larger objective of achieving lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.
He emphasised that it was important to underline the need for Afghan government to take proactive measures to fulfill its responsibility for internal security, law and order and protection of Afghan lives.
“Pakistan stands ready to extend all possible cooperation in the area of security and effective border management through effective institutional collaboration,” he said.
The spokesperson said the two countries had witnessed a positive trajectory in bilateral relations recently, with significant progress on important bilateral matters, including revision of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2020