US-Taliban Talks Begin Amid High Expectations Of

The seventh round of the talks between the US and Taliban negotiators kicked off on Saturday amid high expectations of reaching a conclusion on one of the four key issues under debate which could facilitate intra-Afghan talks and could move the process forward.

Analysts familiar with the talks said the two sides will focus on discussing a timetable for withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan during the first day of the talks.

The US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who leads the talks from the American side, has been relentless in his pursuit of an intra-Afghan dialogue after an earlier planned meeting between the government and the Taliban in Doha was scuttled when both sides disagreed on participants.

In the previous round of the talks in May, the two sides focused on the withdrawal of US troops and Taliban guarantees to prevent Afghanistan from again hosting militants who can stage global attacks.

Still, both Khalilzad and Pompeo have said that agreements with the Taliban will come hand in hand with agreements on an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

Last month, Khalilzad said the sixth round of the talks with the Taliban had “slow but steady” progress. But Afghan analysts say that this time, there should be a breakthrough on a major issue – the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan – which has been a major point of focus for the Taliban.

So far the Taliban has refused to meet directly with the Afghan government but have held several rounds of talks with a collection of Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai, several prominent opposition leaders, and government peace council members. Both those meetings were held in Moscow earlier this year.

Back in May, President Ghani held a grand council on peace where 3,200 delegates called for a ceasefire and asked Ghani to release Taliban prisoners as a gesture of goodwill.

However, the Taliban has refused repeated calls for a ceasefire. Members of the group have said that a ceasefire “will only benefit the Americans” not the peace process.

The fresh round of talks comes amid the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Kabul who said he hopes that there will be a peace deal ahead of the presidential elections in Afghanistan – scheduled for September 28.

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