Afghanistan’s government meets the Taliban for the first time, but they have big differences.
A number of Taliban prisoners who were released by the Afghan government as a condition for peace talks have taken up arms again, top official Abdullah Abdullah says.
Abdullah, who chairs Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation and is overseeing the government’s peace efforts, said on Tuesday that discussions with the Taliban in Qatar so far have been positive.
However, he said, some – though not a majority – of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners released by the government as a condition for talks had resumed the fight against Kabul.
“I do know that some have returned to the battlefield, which is a violation of the agreement that they had made,” Abdullah said during an online conference with the US Council on Foreign Relations.
Abdullah said talks between the two sides had begun in Doha on a positive note, as the delegations built familiarity with each other.
Yet he said the level of violence inside Afghanistan has not fallen and he called on the US, which launched the peace process with its own deal with the Taliban in February, to pressure the armed group to agree to a ceasefire. The US also involved Pakistan, which maintains ties with the Taliban, in the Doha agreement.
“Unfortunately, so far, the level of violence is very high and to a level that is not acceptable for the people,” Abdullah said.
“I repeat my call to the Taliban themselves, and also to all partners who have any leverage over the Taliban, to press on that point.”
On Sunday, Afghanistan witnessed the bloodiest day of fighting since the government and the armed group began peace talks, with a clash leaving 57 members of the Afghan security forces dead and dozens injured.
Abdullah said he plans to visit Pakistan in the coming days, his first visit since 2008.
The persistent violence and the Taliban’s failure to completely cut relations with the ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda armed groups, was singled out as a barrier to success by US officials testifying in Congress on Tuesday.
US chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said a withdrawal of US troops as outlined in the US-Taliban agreement would halt, with approximately 4,500 soldiers remaining in Afghanistan in November while Washington assesses whether the armed group were living up to their pledges.
“Further withdrawals will be determined based on conditions on the ground and delivery by the Taliban on their commitments,” Khalilzad told a hearing of the House oversight committee. The US has slashed troop numbers in Afghanistan by more than half from above 12,000.
Under President Donald Trump’s promise to end US involvement in wars abroad, Washington has pledged to withdraw all forces by May 2021 if the Taliban and the Kabul government can achieve a solid peace agreement.
“By any measure, the current levels of violence are too high. We know that the reductions are possible,” Khalilzad said, noting that short ceasefires had been respected by the Taliban in the past.