DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Afghanistan’s warring sides started negotiations for the first time, bringing together the Taliban and delegates appointed by the Afghan government Saturday for historic meetings aimed at ending decades of war.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the opening ceremony in Qatar, where the meetings are taking place and where the Taliban maintain a political office. The start of negotiations was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity by the Trump administration ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.
“Each of you carry a great responsibility,” Pompeo told the participants. “You have an opportunity to overcome your divisions."
While Saturday's opening was about ceremony, the hard negotiations will be held behind closed doors and over a number of sessions. But following a meeting with the Taliban on Saturday in Doha, Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S. and every Afghan would like to see a deal “sooner rather than later.”
The sides will be tackling tough issues in the negotiations, which will include 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.
Khalilzad said a quick, permanent cease-fire is unlikely, but held out hope for a gradual reduction in violence until both sides are ready to end their fighting. Mistrust runs deep on both sides, he said.
The Afghan negotiation teams are also expected to discuss constitutional changes and power sharing during their talks. Subsequent rounds of negotiations could be held outside Doha. Germany is among the countries offering to host future negotiations.
Even seemingly mundane issues like the flag and the name of the country — the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Ta