US Chief Negotiator to Meet Taliban in Qatar

U.S. lead negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad is expected to meet Qatar-based Taliban envoys later this week to find out whether the insurgent group is ready to reduce violence in Afghanistan for the sake of resuming peace talks.

An official at the American Embassy in Kabul, who requested not to be identified, made the disclosure Thursday, nearly three weeks after Khalilzad paused the dialogue as retaliation to a major Taliban attack on the largest U.S. military base north of the Afghan capital.

The U.S. embassy official, while referring to recent Taliban statements, noted the Taliban leadership has debated the issue in internal deliberations, and Khalilzad wants to learn the outcome at the upcoming meeting.

In his last interaction with insurgent negotiators in Doha on December 12, the Afghan-born U.S. envoy had asked them “to consult their leadership” about observing a temporary cease-fire, or a reduction in violence, before the two sides could return to the negotiating table.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid earlier this week confirmed its leaders have conducted internal consultations, saying they focused solely on a U.S. request for easing “the scale and intensity of violence” against foreign troops.

Mujahid insisted, however, the insurgent group has “no intention” to declare a nationwide cease-fire with Afghan forces, saying that issue would come under discussion when Taliban-Afghan negotiations begin.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass questioned those assertions while speaking to the local TOLO news channel on Wednesday.

“It’s important that before we would resume our discussions with the Taliban, they signal not just to us but more importantly to their fellow Afghans who are dying in this conflict, that they, the Taliban, are prepared to act differently and to choose a different future course,” Base said.

He also emphasized that Washington is not contemplating “a reduction in violence or a cease-fire” only between the Taliban and U.S.-led international forces.

“It has to include Afghan forces because otherwise there wouldn’t be a reduction in violence, because most of the violence that happens in this country is against Afghan citizens,” Bass said.

The year-long U.S.-Taliban negotiations have revolved around assurances the insurgents would not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorist attacks against other nations and they would enter into intra-Afghan negotiations to find a permanent resolution to internal disputes.

In return, American and coalition troops would agree to a “conditions-based” withdrawal from Afghanistan, meeting the core insurgent demand.

Taliban officials, though, maintain they would start negotiations with Afghan stakeholders only after a foreign troop withdrawal agreement is signed with the U.S.

Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents over the past week have carried out major battlefield attacks against Afghan security forces across the country, killing about 100 of such personnel.

Most of the attacks have taken place in the country’s north despite harsh winter conditions, when hostilities typically subside.

The number of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan in 2019 totaled 20, the highest in five years. Most of the fatalities occurred in combat.

While tens of thousands of combatants have been killed in the 18-year-old war, America’s longest, the United Nations disclosed earlier this week more than 100,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in the last 10 years alone.