Doha, Qatar – After nearly two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands, peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban have begun in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
The Afghan government’s 21-member negotiating team was led on Saturday by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief.
The Taliban is led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the armed group’s judge and an in depth aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada.
Also attending are Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Taliban deputy leader Mullah Baradar.
The negotiations, where each side will sit face-to-face for the primary time, will start on Monday, Abdullah’s spokesperson Fraidoon Khawzoon said on Friday.
The intra-Afghan talks were set to require place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as a part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.
In the agreement, the Taliban had agreed to release 1,000 Afghan troops, while the govt said it might release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
France and Australia objected to freeing six of the Taliban prisoners who were involved within the killing of their nationals.
Taliban and Afghan government sources told Al Jazeera a compromise was reached by sending the six prisoners to Qatar. The prisoners arrived in Doha on Friday and can remain in custody there.
Pompeo also arrived in Doha on Friday and called the talks a “historic” opportunity to finish the US’s longest war.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said although the talks raise hopes of the war ending within the country, many challenges remain.
“This may be a new introduce diplomacy for peace in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad told reporters during a telephone briefing on Friday.
“These negotiations are a crucial achievement, but there are … significant challenges on the thanks to reaching an agreement.”
It took almost six months to urge the Taliban and therefore the government to the negotiating table, and analysts said the challenging part is to urge each side to succeed in an agreement.
“The various delays since the primary designated start of the talks in early March show what proportion mistrust the 2 parties got to overcome,” Thomas Ruttig, co-founder of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told Al Jazeera.
“It shows how difficult the talks are going to be generally , given the various issues they might need to solve, with the foremost difficult one being Afghanistan’s future form of government .”
The Afghan negotiating team includes five female representatives who will carry the responsibility of defending and protecting women’s rights during the talks.
“While there’s no other realistic option currently to seek out a negotiated end to the Afghan war, it’s faraway from clear whether any peace deal will address major concerns of the Afghan population like a preservation of the rights and freedoms that are constitutionally bound to them.”
The Afghan government backs the present democratic form of government , while the Taliban wants to reimpose its version of shariah because the country’s system of governance.
The armed group has, however, given vague comments on adopting a less strict stance towards women and social equality than during their 1996-2001 rule during which women were banned from attending school, working, participating in politics or maybe leaving their homes without a male loved one .
The Afghan government’s agenda for the talks is to secure a permanent ceasefire, but analysts said which will be difficult to realize because the Taliban’s only leverage has been their military capability on the bottom .
“The Taliban should see these talks as an honest political opportunity. If they still fight on the bottom to exert pressure, there are less chances of the talks being successful,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, told Al Jazeera.
“Peace demands compromises from all sides which means sacrifices should be made to accumulate a political solution to finish this war,” added Saadat.
In the first six months of 2020, almost 1,300 civilians, including many children, are killed in Afghanistan, consistent with the United Nations .
In July, President Ghani said about 3,560 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were killed and 6,780 more wounded in Taliban attacks between leap day and July 21 this year.
“The suffering of the Afghan people has gone on for much too long,” UN envoy Deborah Lyons said on Friday.
“An inclusive social process , involving the meaningful participation of girls , youth and victims, upholding the human rights of each Afghan is that the only path to peace.”