Peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government to begin Saturday in Qatar

The long-awaited peace talks with the negotiating team selected by the Afghan government are to begin on Saturday in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, the Taliban said in a statement on Thursday.

The start of negotiations was was also announced by Qatar’s foreign ministry and Sediq Sediqqi, spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, confirmed in a tweet that their delegation will be in Qatar’s capital of Doha for the talks.

The talks — known as intra-Afghan negotiations — were laid out in a peace deal that Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in February, also in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

That deal aims to end Afghanistan’s protracted war and bring American troops home while the intra-Afghan talks are to set a road map for a post-war society in Afghanistan.

The negotiations are expected to be a difficult process as the two sides struggle to end the fighting and debate ways of protecting the rights of women and minorities. The fate of the tens of thousands of armed Taliban, as well as militias loyal to government-allied warlords, will also be on the agenda, along with constitutional changes for Afghanistan.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the U.S.-Taliban deal signed on Feb. 29, has been in Doha for the past week, trying to push the talks forward.

Pompeo urges ‘pragmatism’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that Washington is ready to support the negotiations. 

“I urge the negotiators to demonstrate the pragmatism, restraint, and flexibility this process will require to succeed,” he said in a statement. “The United States is prepared to support as requested.”

In this 2018 file photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrive for a news conference in Kabul. Pompeo has welcomed news of upcoming peace talks between Ghani’s government and the Taliban. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

The withdrawal of U.S. troops are not dependent on the success of the negotiations but rather on commitments taken by the Taliban under the deal with the U.S. to fight other militant groups, most specifically the Islamic State group, and to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a staging ground for attacks on the United States or its allies.

Washington and NATO have already begun withdrawing troops. The U.S. expects to have less than 5,000 troops still in Afghanistan by November.