Peace talks seek to end decades of ru­inous war

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Kathy Gan­non and Aya Ba­trawy Kathy Gan­non and Aya Ba­trawy is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — 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 cease­fire, 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 cease­fire 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. 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 Tal­iban’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was known when it ruled — could find their way onto the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble and roil tem­pers.

Among the gov­ern­men­tap­pointed ne­go­tia­tors are four women, who have vowed to pre­serve women’s rights in any power­shar­ing deal with the hard­line Tal­iban. This in­cludes the right to work, ed­u­ca­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in po­lit­i­cal life, all de­nied to women when the Tal­iban ruled Afghanista­n for five years.

The Tal­iban were ousted in 2001 by a U.S.­led coali­tion for har­bor­ing Osama bin Laden, the ar­chi­tect of the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Amer­ica.

No women are on the Tal­iban’s ne­go­ti­a­tion team, led by their chief jus­tice Ab­dul Hakim. The in­sur­gent move­ment has said it ac­cepted a woman’s right to work, go to school and par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics but would not ac­cept a woman as pres­i­dent or chief jus­tice.

Deeply con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment­ap­pointed High Coun­cil for Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, which is over­see­ing the talks, also hold that women can’t serve in ei­ther post.

The Tal­iban’s deputy leader, Mul­lah Ab­dul Ghani Baradar, said the Tal­iban en­vi­sioned an Is­lamic sys­tem that em­braces all Afghans, with­out elab­o­rat­ing. He also urged pa­tience as the ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­ceeded, urg­ing both sides to stick with the talks even in the face of prob­lems.

“The ne­go­ti­a­tion process may have prob­lems, but the re­quest is that the ne­go­ti­a­tions move for­ward with a lot of pa­tience, with a lot of at­ten­tion, and it should be con­tin­ued with such kind of at­ten­tion,” he said.

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who heads Kabul’s High Coun­cil for Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, said in his re­marks that the sides do not need to agree on ev­ery de­tail, but should an­nounce a hu­man­i­tar­ian cease­fire.

Hussein Sayed / As­so­ci­ated Press

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah (cen­ter), head of Kabul’s High Coun­cil for Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, at­tends the open­ing ses­sion of peace talks be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban in Doha, Qatar.

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