Dr. Abdullah Abdullah at Embassy of Afghanistan, in New Delhi. Wikimedia commons photo
This article was originally published Sept. 23, 2020, on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A number of Taliban prisoners who were released by the Afghan government as a condition for peace talks have returned to the battlefield, lead Kabul negotiator Abdullah Abdullah has said.
Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar have been positive since they opened in Doha on September 12, although the two sides reportedly remain far from agreement on virtually every issue.
But Abdullah said that some — though not the majority — of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners released by the Afghan authorities as a condition for talks had resumed the fight against the government.
“I do know that some have returned to the battlefield, which is a violation of the agreement that they had made,” Abdullah told an online conference with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations on September 22.
Despite the ongoing negotiations, the level of violence inside Afghanistan has not fallen, and Abdullah called on Washington, which launched the peace process as part of a February deal with the Taliban, and Pakistan, which allegedly maintains ties to the militants, to pressure them to agree to a cease-fire.
“Unfortunately, so far, the level of violence is very high and to a level that is not acceptable for the people,” Abdullah said. “I repeat my call to the Taliban themselves and also to all partners who have any leverage over the Taliban to press on that point.”
Abdullah said he planned to travel to Pakistan soon for the first time since 2008.
The persistent violence, and the Taliban’s failure to completely cut relations with the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, was singled out as a barrier to success by U.S. officials testifying in Congress on September 22.
U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad warned that violence remains unacceptably high and Washington expects more setbacks in ongoing peace talks between Taliban militants and the Afghan government.
“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” Khalilzad said. “We know that reductions are possible.”
“While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead…. We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles,” Khalilzad said.
He added that Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.
“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” said Khalilzad, who recently returned from Doha.
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