peace talks postponed by taliban

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Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi & Rupam Jain

Editing by Darren Schuettler

Reuters

April 18, 2019

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KABUL (Reuters) – A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.

The talks were set to begin on Friday in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”

Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.

“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.

“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid told Reuters over phone, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.

The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with U.S. officials.

Ghani said Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.

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https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-taliban/peace-talks-postponed-as-taliban-objects-to-size-of-afghan-delegation-idUSKCN1RU0W2

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taliban face u.s. at peace talks

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by Mujib Mashal

New York Times

March 26, 2019

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DOHA, Qatar — When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and toppled the Taliban government, even those who surrendered were treated as terrorists: handcuffed, hooded and shipped to the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Now, in a stark demonstration of the twists and contradictions of the long American involvement in Afghanistan, five of those men are sitting across a negotiating table from their former captors, part of the Taliban team discussing the terms of an American troop withdrawal.

“During our time in Guantánamo, the feeling was with us that we had been brought there unjustly and that we would be freed,” said one of the former detainees, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa. “But it never occurred to me that one day there would be negotiations with them, and I would be sitting there with them on one side and us on the other.”

The five senior Taliban officials were held at Guantánamo for 13 years before catching a lucky break in 2014. They were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known American service member to be held by the insurgents as a prisoner of war.

In recent months, as the Americans and militants took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the recent round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.

During days of slow and at times frustrated discussions at the most recent session, which ended on March 12, it was the Taliban side that was often more emotional. Some gave impassioned speeches about how vital it was that the Americans completely leave Afghanistan in as little as six months.

The usual response from the American side, led by senior envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, was to give detailed technical explanations about why withdrawing was complex and needed to be slower, perhaps over years.

But other than Mullah Khairkhwa, the former detainees seemed more reluctant to speak, officials involved in the talks said. When they did address the group, they seemed less harsh or strident than some of the other Taliban negotiators, perhaps mellowed by years of hardship or wary that their freedom could be fragile. Over the past few years, they have stayed in Doha and have been reunited with their families, but remain under watch by the Qatari authorities at the request of the United States.

The five former Guantánamo detainees had varying roles during the Taliban government reign. Mullah Khairkhwa served as a governor and acting minister of interior. Abdul Haq Wasiq was deputy minister of intelligence.

Perhaps the most infamous figure in the group is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a front-line commander who was also chief of the Taliban army. While accusations of human rights abuses by the others have generally remained vague, there seems to be considerably more evidence against Mullah Mazloom, who is accused of mass killings and scorched-earth brutality.

During an initial tribunal hearing at Guantánamo — The New York Times obtained the transcript via the Freedom of Information Act — Mullah Mazloom (his last name means “meek”) showed no remorse.

“There is a 25-year war person to person, village by village, city by city, province by province, and tribe against tribe,” he told the tribunal. “If you think this is a crime, then every person in Afghanistan should be in prison.”

Still, he insisted: “I never fought against the new government. I never fought against America.”

In their introductions around the table as negotiations started last month, the five men held up their detention at Guantánamo as the most important part of their identity.

“In important moments like this, my own personal troubles don’t come to mind,” Mullah Khairkhwa said in the interview, after the negotiations had ended. “I am really not thinking about who is sitting across from me and what they had done to me.”

“What is important is what we are talking about,” he said, “and what is in it for our interests, for our goal and for our country.”

The men’s Guantánamo files include several notations about uncooperative behavior and instigations, including throwing milk at guards and tearing up their mattresses in protest.

Listed in Mullah Khairkhwa’s record, along with making disruptive noises or refusing to eat or shower at times, is this: trying to kill himself and urging others to kill themselves. But in his tribunal hearing, Mr. Khairkhwa denied having done so.

“There was no spoon in my meal, so I asked the guard for a spoon,” Mullah Khairkhwa said, according to the transcript. “Other detainees also shouted that they did not have spoons, either. The sergeant said he was sorry and from orders of his boss he could not provide me with a spoon.”

“When I asked the reason,” Mullah Khairkhwa added, “he said that I was trying to kill myself and encourage others to do the same.”

Most of the men were detained and sent to Guantánamo after they had surrendered — or even after they had started cooperating with the leadership of the new government the United States had installed in Afghanistan.

At the time of his arrest, Mullah Khairkhwa had retreated to private life in his family’s home village, and had reached out to President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in the wake of the American invasion.

Mullah Khairkhwa, according to his Guantánamo documents, was accused of narcotics trafficking and of closely associating with Osama bin Laden’s men in Al Qaeda. He denied both accusations in his hearings.

The former Taliban government deputy intelligence chief, Mr. Wasiq, had come to a meeting with C.I.A. operatives to discuss cooperation with American and Afghan officials. But he and some of his associates who had come along were bound and taken away, with at least one of them rolled up in a carpet.

Mullah Mazloom had surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek strongman in northern Afghanistan whose militia allied with American Special Operations forces. General Dostum sent thousands of Mullam Mazloom’s men to an overcrowded prison, and his militia killed hundreds — if not thousands — of those foot soldiers after an insurrection in the prison.

Mullah Mazloom and some others were eventually turned over to the Americans.

A timeline for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a stubborn sticking point during the long days of talks. But an even more frustrating issue has been how to define who is a terrorist and who is not. That definition is central as the United States has tried to seek assurances from the Taliban that Afghan territory will not again be used as a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

When they were toppled and hunted down, the Taliban were an oppressive regime, denying citizens basic rights, including keeping women and girls out of school and behind house walls. In the group’s 18-year insurgency since, they have resorted to acts of terrorism like truck bombings that have caused mass civilian casualties.

But now that the United States’ priority has shifted to withdrawal, and out of the pragmatic need to negotiate with the Taliban, American envoys have turned to parsing words to find some definition of terrorism they can hold in common with the Taliban.

In some of the sessions sitting across the table from the former Guantánamo detainees was Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in his four-star uniform. Last October, General Miller narrowly escaped death in an attack by a Taliban infiltrator that killed a prominent Afghan security chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, who had been walking beside him in a heavily guarded compound in Kandahar Province.

According to several officials on both sides who knew details of the talks, General Miller told the Taliban that he respected them as fighters, but that the war needed to end. He also evoked a mutual need to fight the terrorism of the Islamic State.

“We could keep fighting, keep killing each other,” General Miller was quoted as saying. “Or, together, we could kill ISIS.”

Mullah Khairkhwa said that even though the two sides had not been able to reach a final agreement this time, the two sides shared a common interest, at least, in ending the war.

“It’s been a long war, with lots of casualties and destruction and loss,” he said. “What gives me hope is that both teams are taking the issue seriously. On every issue, the discussions are serious, and it gives me hope that we will find a way out — as long as there are not spoilers to ruin it.”

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editor

Rawclyde

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Taliban Reject U.S. Peace Pipe

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Written by Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal

January 19, 2014

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A top spokesman for the Afghan Taliban rejected the US’ call for the group to “put down their arms and begin peace talks,” a request that was made just one day after a Taliban suicide assault team killed 21 people, including two Americans, at a restaurant in Kabul.

“We strongly reject the American demand,” Zabihullah Mujahid, an official Taliban spokesman, said in an email sent to The Long War Journal. Mujahid’s statement was also published on the Taliban’s website, Voice of Jihad.

“America wants to turn a blind eye from a manifest reality and conveniently skip over the primary reason for the problems of Afghanistan,” he continued. Mujahid said that “the American invasion and its resultant barbarity” was the Taliban’s reason for continuing the fight.

“If America truly wants peace and stability for Afghanistan then it should immediately withdraw all its forces from our land and leave the Afghans to their own wills and aspirations,” he continued. “If America is adamant on war and occupation then it should wait for more deadly attacks.”

Mujahid was responding to an official statement by the White House that condemned the Jan. 17 suicide assault on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, including the IMF’s representative to Afghanistan, three UN workers, two Americans, two Brits, two Canadians, and a Danish citizen.

The Taliban claimed the Kabul attack was retaliation for the Jan. 15 raid in Parwan province that targeted a senior Taliban commander who is linked to the Haqqani Network and supports suicide bombings and attacks in the capital.

In the White House statement, the US reiterated that it wants to negotiate with the Taliban.

“We call again on the Taliban to put down their arms and begin peace talks, which is the surest way to end the conflict in a peaceful manner,” the White House statement said.

The US government has unsuccessfully pursued peace talks with the Taliban for the past five years as the Obama administration seeks to withdraw the bulk of the forces from the country by the end of 2014. Vice President Joe Biden is pushing for a residual force of less than 3,000 troops to remain in country, while the ‘zero option,’ or no US forces in country, is a distinct possibility. The administration believes that a peace deal with the Taliban will end the fighting and prevent al Qaeda from operating in the country.

Previously, the US has demanded that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda and join the Afghan political process. The demand that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda was dropped last year as the Taliban were permitted to open an office in Qatar. Western officials wanted the Taliban to use the office to conduct peace talks, but the Taliban insisted it was to be used to raise the profile of the group in the international community and serve as a “political office.” Additionally, the Taliban wanted to use the office in Qatar to secure the release of five al Qaeda-linked commanders who are being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban signaled in early 2012, during another US push for peace talks, that they had no intentions of disowning al Qaeda, and refused to denounce international terrorism. A Taliban spokesman even said that al Qaeda is officially operating under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

“They [al Qaeda] are among the first groups and banners that pledged allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban], and they operate in Afghanistan under the flag of the Islamic Emirate,” a spokesman to jihadist forums known as Abdullah al Wazir said in February 2012.

“They are an example of discipline and accuracy in the execution of missions and operations entrusted to them by the Military Command of the Islamic Emirate,” Wazir continued, calling al Qaeda “lions in war.”

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The Long War Journal

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Prisoner Released For “Peace Process”

mullah baradar 1

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The Guardian UK

21 September 2013

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Pakistan has released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner in an effort to jump-start Afghanistan’s struggling peace process.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

Pakistani intelligence and security officials confirmed that he was freed on Saturday but did not provide any details, including where he had been held. Pakistan’s foreign ministry had announced earlier that Baradar would be released “to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process”.

Muhammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the Afghan government’s council for negotiating with the Taliban, praised Baradar’s release, saying: “We are very much hopeful that Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process.”

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who served as foreign minister for the Taliban when the group ruled Afghanistan, also welcomed Bardar’s release and cautioned Pakistan not to try to control his movements now that he is free.

“They also have to allow him contact with Taliban leaders and for him to be useful for peace in Afghanistan,” Muttawakil said.

Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government’s request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.

But there is no sign that the previous releases have helped peace talks, and some of the prisoners are believed to have returned to the fight against the Afghan government. The US was reluctant to see Baradar released, believing he would also return to the battlefield.

Afghanistan has in the past called on Pakistan to release Taliban prisoners into its custody but they have instead been set free in Pakistan.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s foreign ministry, Janan Mosazai, has said Baradar must be “accessible, secure and with a known address” if he remains in Pakistan.

Afghan officials said Baradar had been arrested while he was holding secret peace talks with the Afghan government, and accused Pakistan of arresting him to sabotage or gain control of the process. Others said the US was the driving force behind his arrest.

Pakistan is a key player in Afghan peace talks because of its historical ties to the Taliban. Islamabad helped the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan in 1996 and is widely believed to have maintained ties with the group, despite official denials.

But there is also significant distrust between the two, and Pakistan has arrested dozens of Taliban members in the years following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The most recent attempt to push forward peace negotiations foundered in June in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which is a fleshy little ganglia attached to Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf…

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Doha, capital of Qatar

Doha, capital of Qatar, Persian Gulf

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