Taliban team in Islamabad for talks with Pakistan officials
The Taliban and the Afghan government had signalled they were prepared to start talks immediately after the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Adha, which ended earlier this month, but the process remains bogged down over a controversial prisoner swap.
Both sides have fought for nearly two decades in a conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead.
"The delegation is in Islamabad and we will have a round of talks with them tomorrow as part of efforts aimed at (building) mutual confidence," Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference.
Qureshi said Islamabad had invited the Taliban to Pakistan to stress the importance of talks, saying negotiations were the "the only way forward" in Afghanistan.
"This is for Afghans to reconcile, and our task is that of facilitator," he added. "The main objective is to secure peace and the next phase should be the start of intra-Afghan dialogue."
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"I am optimistic about the Taliban joining the peace process," said Hussain, 19, who like many young Afghans grew up in neighbouring Iran where millions have taken refuge from war. He now works as a hairdresser in Kabul. "It will be an end to the war and conflicts in our country. I want the Taliban to change their policy and not behave like before"
Twenty-five-year-old artist Mahdi Zahak said: "There is hope for peace, but the only way we can have peace is if the Taliban accept the achievements made here in the past 17 years and let everyone enjoy their lives"
Seventeen-year-old Muay Thai athlete Kawsar Sherzad said: "Afghan females have had a lot of achievements in sports, so I am optimistic that the Taliban will accept these achievements"
Sultan Qasim Sayeedi, an 18-year-old model sports a hairstyle with shaven sides and a slicked back front called a "sinpogh", which he says turns heads on Kabul's streets. "We're afraid that if the Taliban come then we will not be able to hold our shows," he said. Despite that wariness, Sultan says it's time the fighting ended. "If American troops go, peace will come. We want peace," he added
Twenty-two-year-old owner of a luxury clothes shop Sohail Ataie said: "We are tired of war. What we want is peace to live a better life"
"The thing I'm most worried about is that if they return, I'll not be able to continue playing music," said Maram Atayee, a 16-year-old pianist who attends music school in Kabul. "It will be great if the government and the Taliban reach a peace deal. Access to music must be guaranteed for everyone and women's rights protected"
Twenty-one-year-old model Omid Arman said: "Everyone in this country desires peace. We've witnessed a lot of conflicts, it's enough, we don't want to witness any more tragedy"
Nineteen-year-old Nadim Quraishi posing outside his game zone shop said: "We want to see an end to the current conflict in the country. We are hoping for a lasting peace between the government and the Taliban"
Twenty-two-year-old Zarghona Haidari, who works at a book store, said: "I'm not very optimistic about peace in this country. I don't think the Taliban will make a deal with the government"
Eighteen-year-old Farzad Aslami said: "We want peace for the sake of our country's welfare. We don't want any more suicide attacks and explosions"
Twenty-two-year-old doctor Mohammad Jawed Momand said: "Peace requires everyone to lay down their arms and think about education and the prosperity of the country"
Under the prisoner exchange, Kabul has released about 4,680 insurgent detainees while the Taliban says it has freed 1,000 members of Afghan security forces, broadly fulfilling an agreement outlined in a deal reached between the U.S. and the Taliban.
But the swap has stumbled over the final few hundred prisoners, with Kabul reluctant to release what it says are dangerous Taliban fighters tied to deadly attacks.
Meanwhile Abdullah Abdullah, who is leading the Afghan government's peace process, called for the prisoner exchange to be wrapped up.
"We are calling for the completion of the prisoner exchange, & immediate beginning of the intra-Afghan talks to put an end to agony of a nation," Abdullah said on Twitter.
In October 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban co-founder who spent eight years in Pakistani custody, led a delegation to Islamabad ahead of a deal the insurgents signed in February with Washington.
Islamabad has said its influence over the Taliban – which ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when it was ousted by a US-led invasion – encouraged the militants to join talks with the US.
Tensions remain high between Islamabad and Kabul, with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani frequently lashing out at Pakistan for allegedly sheltering, funding and supplying the Taliban.
Pakistan, which was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban regime in the 1990s, denies the claims.
On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted that Baradar and other negotiators would discuss "recent developments in Afghanistan's peace process, relaxation and facilitation of people's movement and trade between the two neighbouring countries". (AFP)