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U.S., Taliban Set to Resume Peace Push in Doha

by AFP

Members of the Taliban Mohammad Nabi Omari, center left, Abbas Stanikzai, center right, and Mawlawi Abdul Haq Wasiq, right, attend the peace talks in Doha. Karim Jaafar—AFP

State Department official notes progress on advancing peace process but refuses to say how long it may take to resolve pending issues

The U.S. and the Taliban said they would return to talks in Qatar on Friday aimed at bringing a close to Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a media WhatsApp group that day two of the ninth round of negotiations in Doha would “restart after evening prayers and will continue till late evening.”

A State Department official told AFP that U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and his team “have made progress on advancing a peace process.” But the official added that “we do not have an estimate for how long it may take to close out the remaining issues.”

A source close to the U.S. negotiating team earlier confirmed to AFP that talks would resume Friday afternoon.

The U.S., which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al Qaeda and curbing attacks. Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by Sept. 1—ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and U.S. presidential polls due in 2020.

Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai told AFP on Thursday that talks had been “going well.”

The talks are expected to focus on establishing a timeline for the U.S. withdrawal of its more than 13,000 troops. “We’ve been there for 18 years, it’s ridiculous,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday. “We are negotiating with the government and we are negotiating with the Taliban,” he added. “We have good talks going and we will see what happens.”

But thorny issues remain unresolved, including power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Afghanistan’s incumbent administration.

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