Bangkok Post

Afghan govt Taliban talks team finalised

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>>KABUL: The Afghan government has finalised a 21-member team — including five women — who will negotiate with the Taliban in upcoming talks aimed at ending Afghanista­n’s 18-yearold conflict, officials said on Friday.

The move is a crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the table and getting a flounderin­g, US-led peace process back on track.

Under a deal signed by the US and the Taliban last month, the insurgents agreed to commit to starting talks with the Afghan government and discuss a possible ceasefire.

Up until now, the Taliban has refused to meet with the administra­tion of President Ashraf Ghani, calling him an American stooge.

In return for starting talks and other commitment­s, the US and foreign partner forces will withdraw from Afghanista­n over the next 14 months.

The negotiatin­g team was supposed to be unveiled weeks ago, with the “intra-Afghan” talks with the Taliban meant to get underway on March 10 in Oslo.

But Kabul has been gripped by a fresh political crisis, with Mr Ghani’s legitimacy being challenged by his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has also proclaimed himself president.

The United States, which has slashed aid to the Afghan government over its failure to end infighting, hailed the progress in naming an “inclusive” negotiatin­g team.

The delegation “reflects the true tapestry of the nation and the instrument­al role of women,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator.

“This consensus is a meaningful step that moves the parties significan­tly closer to intra-Afghan negotiatio­ns,” he wrote on Twitter.

The negotiatin­g team will be led by former Afghan intelligen­ce chief Masoom Stanekzai, who as a Pashtun shares a tribal identity with the Taliban.

While there was no immediate indication of whether Mr Abdullah supports the team’s compositio­n, it includes Batur Dostum, whose father

Abdul Rashid Dostum — a notorious former warlord — is a staunch ally of Mr Abdullah.

In a statement, Afghanista­n’s peace ministry said Mr Ghani “wishes the delegation success and calls on them to consider, at all stages of negotiatio­ns, the best interest of the country, the shared values of the Afghan people, and the principle stand of the country for a united Afghanista­n”.

Among the five women delegates is Habiba Sarabi, deputy leader of the government’s High Peace Council. Ms Sarabi is a Hazara, the predominan­tly Shiite ethnic group that the Taliban have repeatedly targeted.

Another female delegate is Fawzia Koofi, an ethnic Tajik and a women’s rights activist who has been a vocal Taliban critic.

During their reign across much of Afghanista­n from 1996-2001, the Taliban forced women to stay at home, banned female education and frequently executed women on flimsy allegation­s of adultery.

 ??  ?? DIPLOMATIC ENGAGEMENT: Afghanista­n President Ashraf Ghani speaks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, during their meeting in Kabul last week.
DIPLOMATIC ENGAGEMENT: Afghanista­n President Ashraf Ghani speaks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, during their meeting in Kabul last week.

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