Doha, Qatar – Dozens of high-profile Afghan politicians and civil society activists, including women, are meeting with the Taliban in the Qatari capital for an intra-Afghan meeting that seeks to find lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan.
“The meeting is aimed at further pushing the intra-Afghan negotiations for peace,” former Afghan envoy to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, who is attending the meeting, told Al Jazeera. Zakhilwal said the gathering “complements” the ongoing United States-Taliban talks, also being held in Doha.
As the meeting was under way, Taliban fighters on Sunday killed at least eight people and wounded more than 50 civilians in a car bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.
The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the West-backed government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the meeting on the condition that the attendees will do so in a personal capacity.
“Taliban does not want to sit with the Afghan government because it thinks that peace talks with the government will affect the morale of its fighters in the battlefield,” political analyst Hashim Wahdatyar, who is a director at the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington, told Al Jazeera.
“Since the Taliban come from a position of strength, the group thinks it controls both war and peace.”
Not the first such meeting
An Afghan official attending the gathering said issues such as women’s and minorities rights will be discussed at the meeting. He did not provide the details of the agenda.
“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, said in a statement after the announcement of the gathering last week.
“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be a direct engagement between the Afghans,” he said.
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) July 6, 2019
In April, a similar meeting between Afghan and Taliban representatives scheduled in Doha collapsed after disagreement between both sides over the number of Afghan delegates.
However, Moscow has hosted two intra-Afghan meetings so far. In February, senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai, met a Taliban delegation in the Russian capital and discussed, among other issues, the adoption of a new constitution and an interim government.
The two groups, bitter former foes, were also seen praying and dining together during the talks in Moscow.
In May, a Taliban team, led by chief negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met Afghan politicians, including those planning to challenge President Ashraf Ghani in September presidential elections, met again in Moscow.
The Taliban, which effectively controls half of Afghanistan, said “decent progress” was made at the Moscow talks, but the negotiations were still short of a breakthrough.
“The same conference took place in Moscow with a much higher level of participation, but did not produce any results,” political analyst Wahdatyar told Al Jazeera.
“However, the talks in Qatar will pave the way for a series of other intra-Afghan dialogues to be held in future,” he said.
“Remember, it is not a project that produces results in a specific timeframe. It is a process and it will take time and efforts to find a solution to the war in Afghanistan.”
Today, the Taliban is more powerful than at any time since it was toppled in 2001 following a US-led invasion and hunt for al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
US-Taliban talks paused
Meanwhile, the seventh round of US-Taliban peace talks in Doha, that began on June 29, have been paused for two days to allow the intra-Afghan meeting to take place, a Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera.
“No talks will take place tomorrow and the day after,” Suhail Shaheen said on Saturday. “The talks between the US and the Taliban will restart on Tuesday.”
The US-Taliban peace talks are aimed at hammering out details of a framework agreement reached in January. The agreement includes a timeline for US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a ceasefire and a Taliban guarantee to not allow foreign groups to use the country as a staging ground for global attacks.
US peace envoy Khalilzad, who is leading the talks with the Taliban in Doha, told Al Jazeera that “substantive progress” has been made in the latest round of talks.
“We have made substantive progress on all four elements: assurances on counterterrorism, which is important for the US and the world; withdrawal of foreign troops which is important for the Taliban; intra-Afghan negotiations, including agreement on a roadmap for the political future of Afghanistan; and a complete, comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” said Khalilzad.
“For the first time, I can say we have had substantive progress on all the four elements.”
Despite the ongoing efforts to end the 18-year Afghanistan war, a number of deadly attacks have taken place across the country recently.
On Friday, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) claimed responsibility for an attack on a Shia mosque in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province that killed two people.
Also on Friday, at least 14 people were killed and dozens of others wounded when a market in Khwaja Sabz Posh district of Faryab province was hit by mortar fire.
Last week, the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb during the morning rush hour traffic in capital Kabul, killing at least 16 people and wounding 105 others, including 51 children and five women.
The Taliban has been called out for causing civilian casualties by the United Nations, the NGOs working in Afghanistan as well as the Afghan government.
“For lasting peace and stability, the Afghan security forces must be given more strength. Also, to avoid the recurrence of a civil war, a certain number of international troops must remain in Afghanistan,” said Wahdatyar.
“Otherwise, the negotiations in Qatar will not bring peace and once the US withdraws, the country will become a hotbed of international terrorism.”