US-Taliban talks: Two sides take a break amid bid for peace

The talks enter second week raising expectations that there could be some progress towards ending the Afghan war.

    US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is currently holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar [Reuters]
    US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is currently holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar [Reuters]

    The United States and the Taliban negotiators announced a two-day break from talks in Qatar following extensive discussion for 11 days in a renewed bid to restore peace to Afghanistan.

    The fifth round of peace talks in Doha started on February 25 after the two sides hailed significant progress in the previous rounds of talks, also held in the Qatari capital.

    The two sides agreed on a "draft framework" that included US troops withdrawal and discussions of a Taliban commitment that the Afghan territory would not be used by international "terror" groups.

    The Taliban, in a statement released on Thursday, said the current round of peace talks is focused on "the withdrawal of all occupying forces from Afghanistan and not allowing Afghanistan to harm others".

    "Comprehensive discussions are taking place about these two subjects. Other issues that have an internal aspect and are not tied to the United States have not been under discussion," the statement said.

    During the talks, the US suggested a gradual troop pullout but the Taliban representatives said they want a withdrawal by the end of 2019, sources told Al Jazeera. Currently, 14,000 US troops are stationed in the country.

    The talks will resume on Sunday, according to the Taliban.

    US officials have not released any statement or comment on the ongoing talks.

    The Doha meetings mark the highest level of negotiations between the two sides since the US ramped up peace efforts last year as the Trump administration is eager to end the nearly 18-year war.

    Cofounder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was released from a Pakistani prison in January to head the Taliban team in Doha. Sher Mohammed Abas Stanekzai is the main Taliban negotiator at the talks.

    Sticking point

    A major sticking point is that the US wants the Taliban to negotiate any final deal with the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani, something the Taliban has repeatedly refused to do, calling the government a "puppet" of the West.

    Ghani, who is seeking a second term, seems to have been sidelined from the peace process ahead of the key July presidential elections.

    The US forces overthrew the Taliban from power in a 2001 invasion for hosting al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

    Since then, the Taliban has conducted an armed rebellion exacting a heavy toll on Afghan security forces, civilians and US-led NATO forces, with 3,804 civilian killed last year - the deadliest since 2001.

    The UN says at least 32,000 civilians have been killed and another 60,000 wounded in the past decade, when it began compiling the data.

    In January, the Afghanistan president said that about 45,000 security forces have been killed since 2014.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies