Afghan government team to meet Taliban

KABUL (AA): As the U.S. and Taliban are set to clinch a peace deal in Qatar on Saturday, the tricky phase of parleys between various Afghan groups to place a credible governance mechanism in Kabul also appears challenging.

The Afghan government has formed an initial direct contact group to hold talks with the Taliban, a top official in Kabul told Anadolu Agency on Friday.

This is a major breakthrough as the Taliban were so far not recognizing the Afghan government as a legitimate party for talks.

The landmark peace deal has come on the heels of an unprecedented reduction in violence week ending on Friday, Feb. 28, a condition stipulated ahead of the signing of the deal.

The week saw a noticeable drop in violent attacks across the war-ravaged country. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also admitted that the reduction in violence has worked so far.

The deal between the U.S. and the Taliban includes pledges from Washington on a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and in turn promise from the Taliban not to harbor international terrorists. They also committed to sharing the table with Afghan officials, politicians, and civil society.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Javaid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council said the government has formed an initial direct contact group based on the request of the Taliban and the country’s international partners.

“We want the reduction in violence to extend and turn into a ceasefire which will build trust on the Taliban and help the peace process forward”, he said.

After the first confidence-building measure related to reducing the violence for a week ended without any major breach, parties are awaiting to implement the next big step — the release of prisoners by the Kabul government and the Taliban.

Brig. Ali Khail, a security analyst told Anadolu Agency the comprise by all parties resending form their hardened positions was encouraging.

“The Taliban now seem willing to talk to the Afghan government, the government has already compromised on its demand for a complete ceasefire and the U.S. seems no more sidelining the Afghan government”, he said

Release of prisoners, next big step

According to the local Azadi Radio, some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and an estimated 1,000 captives held by the Taliban may be released from respective prisons.

”They [members of the contact group] are not attending any signing ceremony [between the U.S. and the Taliban] and are not negotiating the release of prisoners. It will be just a contact group to initiate direct contacts with the Taliban”, the NSA spokesman clarified.

Finally endorsing the re-election of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, the U.S. on Wednesday hailed postponement of the planned presidential inauguration ceremony in Kabul.

In a series of tweets, Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, said Washington welcomes President Ghani’s decision to postpone the event (oath-taking) until March 9.

“This will allow time for necessary consultations so that the best interests of Afghanistan and its people are reflected and preserved by the new government”, he said.

Khalilzad added: “As the electoral process has concluded, President Ghani, as the declared winner, and other leaders should ensure that the new government is inclusive and reflects the aspirations of all Afghans.”

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