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The Afghan government and the Taliban met for the first time since 2001 recently in Doha to officially speak and negotiate directly with one another. There are hopes that the meeting could be a historic turning point.

The First Step of a Long Journey

It is a historic day in Afghanistan’s history, but also only the first step on a long and presumably difficult journey. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in Doha and are intended to bring about peace in the country after decades of war.

The latter is long overdue as Afghans seek an end to violence and a permanent ceasefire to finally live in dignity and peace. Many Afghans and the international community hope that the talks started today will enable a paradigm shift.

The First Intra-Afghan Talks

After all, it is the first time since the US liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban regime in 2001 that the government in Kabul and the Taliban have officially spoken directly to one another. Up to this point, the Taliban had refused and called Kabul’s government a “puppet” of the Americans.

Therefore, the symbolic value of the meeting in Doha should not be underestimated: on the one hand, the government delegation headed by Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the “High Council for National Reconciliation.” On the other, the Taliban emissaries around their deputy chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The host was the Qatari Foreign Minister Muhammad bin Abd al Rahman Bin Jassim Al Thani, together with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Priority: “Humanitarian Ceasefire”

Abdullah Abdullah made it clear in his opening statement the most urgent demand of the Afghan government and the international community: a “humanitarian ceasefire”. The agreement that the Islamists and the USA concluded in Doha on February 29th fueled Afghans’ hopes for peace. However, there was still violence, which has now resulted in 12,000 deaths, said Abdullah.

That is why the violence must end, said Abdullah, who at the same time thanked the Taliban for their willingness to negotiate and was convinced that the beginning of the negotiations would go down in history as the end of the war and the suffering of the Afghan people.

Taliban Claim They Will Conduct Peace Talks With ‘Full Sincerity’

Abdul Ghani Baradar, who, as the former right-hand man of the Taliban founder Mullah Omar, has significant influence among the Islamists, did not respond to Abdullah’s request in his speech. The Taliban have consistently refused to accept calls for a lengthier ceasefire. Still, Baradar emphasized that the Taliban would conduct the peace negotiations “with full sincerity.” Baradar said he wants Afghanistan to have a positive relationship based on mutual respect in the region and other countries worldwide.

Taliban Demands: All US Troops Gone and a Strict Islamic System

At the same time, he repeated the two most important demands of his Islamists: the reintroduction of a strict Islamic system in Afghanistan and a complete withdrawal of US troops. The latter has already been agreed and should be completed by 2021. This demand could be easiest to meet if Donald Trump remains President. Because Trump has been saying for years that there must be an end to American participation in “endless wars.”

And he has also taken steps there: only on Thursday did the President announce in the White House that the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan would be reduced to 4,000 “in a very short time”. Most recently, there were about 8,600 soldiers there. Shortly before the talks began in Doha, Pompeo emphasized that the American troop withdrawal progress would depend on whether the Taliban kept their promises.

Pompeo did not want to comment on whether Washington would make the final troop withdrawal dependent on the peace negotiations that have now begun.

However, the upcoming US election may influence Washington’s modus operandi in Afghanistan moving forward if Joe Biden became president.