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Uncertainty clouds Afghan talks

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WITH the US presidential election barely four months away, top American officials have been engaged in another round of shuttle diplomacy to get intra-Afghan talks off the ground. Recent visits to Kabul, Islamabad and Doha by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a video conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar last month all aimed at speeding up the peace process.

President Donald Trump seems determined to pull out the bulk of US troops from Afghanistan ahead of the November polls and portray this as fulfilment of his pledge and an ‘achievement’, especially when he has little to claim by way of any foreign policy success. The withdrawal of US forces as envisaged under the Feb 29 US-Taliban agreement is proceeding ahead of schedule. The coronavirus pandemic may be a compelling reason to expedite the pullout.

The prospect of commencing intra-Afghan talks is still clouded in uncertainty despite the US aim to have them convened later this month. The principal hurdle is the persisting stalemate on the issue of prisoners. Under the Doha deal the Afghan government was committed to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. So far just over 4,400 prisoners have been freed by Kabul and around 660 by the Taliban in the swap. From the outset the Taliban’s condition to begin intra-Afghan talks was the release of all 5,000 prisoners. US officials have tried to persuade them to start the talks and let the rest of the prisoner release happen in due course. But the Taliban have not agreed.

A long and difficult path lies ahead to secure a negotiated end to the........

© Dawn

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