The long pending talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban will begin on September 12, Saturday, in Doha in Qatar. The talks were scheduled to be held in March but were delayed on several occasions.
Representatives from at least 35 countries have been invited to participate in the opening ceremony in Doha. Regarding the talks, the Taliban has stated that it “intends to advance the negotiation process in an appropriate manner.”
Taliban has been demanding the release of the final batch of its prisoners being held in Afghan prisons. Some western countries, including France and Australia, had objected to the release of six of these prisoners on the grounds that they were involved in the deliberate killing of their citizens. The six were later airdropped to Qatar as part of a compromise deal, according to Taliban spokesperson Naeem Wardak.
Taliban chief Maulvi Hibatullah had earlier handpicked a 20-member team with absolute decision-making authority in the intra-Afghan negotiations. This team will be led by Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai, who is said to have spent several years lying low in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The Afghan government’s negotiating team will be led by the chairman of National Reconciliation Council, Abdullah Abdullah, who will share the responsibility of leading the talks.
The Afghan conflict has disproportionately affected women and children in the country. Several human rights organizations including Amnesty International have called for the inclusion of “the voices of victims” in the intra-Afghan peace dialogue in order to “ensure the meaningful participation of women in the talks and their demands for justice”.
A letter campaign led by several international organizations has also urged the negotiators to preserve the right to equality for women as outlined in the Afghan constitution.
Meanwhile, violence in Afghanistan continues. At least ten civilians were killed in an explosion targeting Afghan vice-president Amrulla Saleh in capital Kabul on September 9.
In the first half of 2020, at least 1,293 civilians have lost their lives in the country, one-third of whom were victims of landmines or similar explosives. As per estimates of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, 880 incidents of violence have occurred in the first three months of this year alone.
“Peace cannot merely mean a cessation of hostilities. For Afghanistan to break with its painful past and for wounds to heal, victims must have access to justice, with perpetrators held accountable. A failure to address serious human rights violations committed by all sides in the conflict will not only betray the victims but also threaten further conflict,” Amnesty International said in a statement.