UAE hosts Afghanistan reconciliation talks

The talks aimed at ending a 17-year conflict in Afghanistan but revealed persistent challenges when the Taliban delegation refused direct talks with Afghan government negotiators.
Wednesday 19/12/2018
A member of the Afghan security forces stands guard next to damaged army vehicles after a Taliban attack in Ghazni city, Afghanistan, August 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
A member of the Afghan security forces stands guard next to damaged army vehicles after a Taliban attack in Ghazni city, Afghanistan, August 15, 2018. (REUTERS)

ABU DHABI – The United Arab Emirates hosted US-Taliban reconciliation talks, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The talks December 17-19 aimed at ending a 17-year conflict in Afghanistan but revealed persistent challenges when the Taliban delegation refused direct talks with Afghan government negotiators. The Taliban, who have refused in the past to speak with the Afghan government, has favoured addressing matters with third parties, including officials from the United States, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“Talks revolved around withdrawal of occupation forces from Afghanistan, ending the oppression being carried out by the United States and her allies and views were exchanged with said countries about peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.

The United States proposed a 6-month ceasefire and an agreement to name Taliban representatives to a future caretaker government, Reuters reported, citing anonymous Taliban officials. The Taliban, however, have said a ceasefire would damage their cause and help US and Afghan forces.

Despite the apparent challenges, US Special Adviser for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, writing on Twitter, said he had “productive meetings in UAE with the Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan.”

The Emirates news agency WAM said another round of talks would take place in Abu Dhabi to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process.

“Pakistan has helped in the dialogue between Taliban and the United States in Abu Dhabi. Let us pray that this leads to peace and ends almost three decades of suffering of the brave Afghan people. Pakistan will be doing everything within its power to further the peace process,” Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted.

In a message released December 18, Taliban delegates said they had “preliminary talks” with Khalilzad. They also said they had held “extensive” meetings with officials from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States did not confirm there had been direct meetings between Khalilzad and the Taliban. Washington said meetings were ongoing in Abu Dhabi “to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue toward ending the conflict” and that Khalilzad was in the region.

Khalilzad “has in the past met and will continue to meet with all interested parties, including the Taliban, to support a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” a statement from Washington said.

The Abu Dhabi meetings are among diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. Russia in November staked its claim on any peace settlement, hosting a meeting in which Taliban envoys met with representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council. Many other countries are working to open channels with the Taliban and position themselves as lead facilitators of reconciliation talks.

Khalilzad, who has expressed hopes for a deal to be in place before Afghanistan’s presidential election next April, has made several trips to the region since his appointment in September.

During a briefing at the UN Security Council, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto was optimistic about the possibility of talks. “The possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now,” he said.

The Taliban, however, have increased attacks on Afghan forces, even as the US increases diplomatic efforts, with thousands of people displaced by fighting.

Civilians face “extreme levels of harm,” a recent UN report said, with 8,050 people killed or wounded in the first nine months of this year.