Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani(R) with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani(R) with Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
PIC: AFP

Afghanistan's warring sides started negotiations on Saturday for the first time aimed at ending decades of war, bringing together delegates appointed by the Afghan government and the Taliban.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the opening ceremony, which was held in Qatar where the meetings will take place. It's the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity by the Trump administration ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The discussions are important in the search for lasting peace that will also provide an exit for US and NATO troops after nearly 19 years.

The sides will try to tackle tough issues. This includes the terms of a permanent cease-fire, the rights of women and minorities and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and militias loyal to warlords, some of them aligned with the government.

The talks in Doha follow the US-brokered recognition of Israel by two Gulf nations - Bahrain on Friday and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.

The Afghan sides are also expected to discuss constitutional changes, and power sharing.

Even seemingly mundane issues like the flag and the name of the country -- the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or as the Taliban's administration had been known, when it ruled, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- could find their way on to the negotiation table and roil tempers.

Among the government-appointed negotiators are four women, who vow to preserve women's rights in any power-sharing deal with the fundamentalist Taliban. This includes the right to work, education and participation in political life -- all denied women when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years.

The Taliban were ousted in 2001 by a US-led coalition for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.

There are no women on the Taliban's negotiation team, led by their chief justice Abdul Hakim.

Pompeo has said he expected the discussions to be contentious.

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