Zalmay Khalilzad arrives today to discuss Afghan peace talks with Pakistani leadership

ISLAMABAD: US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is scheduled to arrive today to discuss the matters related to Afghan peace talks with the Pakistan leadership.

Zalmay Khalilzad would hold meetings with the top political and military leaders during his visit and discuss the next phase of the peace process as Afghan rivals hold talks in Qatar in search for a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

‘Talks to continue in the spirit of moving towards peace’

A slick opening ceremony in Doha on Saturday saw the Afghan government, and allies including the US, call for a ceasefire.

But the Taliban, who have fought a guerrilla campaign against both since they were forced from power in 2001, did not mention a truce as they came to the negotiating table.

The head of the peace process for the Afghan government, Abdullah Abdullah, suggested the Taliban could offer a ceasefire in exchange for the release of more of their jailed fighters.

“This could be one of their ideas or one of their demands,” said Abdullah who left Doha for Kabul on Sunday night as scheduled.

He said the talks should continue in the “spirit of moving towards peace”.

“There should first be a significant reduction in violence, then humanitarian ceasefires, and then a nationwide and permanent ceasefire,” he said.

The Afghan government side said on Twitter that “the first meeting between the contact groups of the two negotiation teams took place (Sunday)”.

Schedules for the talks and a code of conduct were discussed, the tweet said without giving details of next steps.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem also confirmed the beginning of technical talks.

Negotiations will be arduous and messy, delegates warned, and are starting even as bloodshed continues to grip Afghanistan.

“We will undoubtedly encounter many challenges in the talks over the coming days, weeks and months,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday in Doha, as he called for the warring sides to “seize this opportunity” to secure peace.

‘Afghanistan should be run according to Islamic law’

During a speech at the opening event, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar repeated the movement’s message that Afghanistan should be run according to Islamic law, highlighting a likely sticking point.

Baradar and Abdullah both met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on Sunday to discuss the process, according to Tamim’s office.

A comprehensive peace deal could take years, and will depend on the willingness of both sides to tailor their competing visions for Afghanistan and the extent to which they can agree to share power.