Afghan government, Taliban ‘near compromise’ in peace talks

Afghanistan’s top negotiator says the government in Kabul and the Taliban militant group are nearing a compromise on major issues in peace talks.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), who is heading the government’s negotiating team, made the remark in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday as he finished a three-day visit to the country.

He said that after several small-group meetings in the Qatari capital, Doha, the issue of the Hanafi school of thought had been resolved “to a large extent.”

Both sides have provisionally agreed “to recognize the principal issue of Hanafi’s role without any discrimination to Shia communities or minorities, so… the compromise is around that,” Abdullah said.

The Taliban had insisted on strict adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, but the Afghan government’s negotiating team worried that could be used to discriminate against the Shia community and other religious minorities.

Among other obstacles in the negotiations is the extent to which the Taliban recognize the legitimacy of the Kabul government under a future deal.

Abdullah said the two sides appeared to have made progress on the issue, without providing details. He said that after a slow start, the negotiating teams were now “getting along quite well and this latest impasse… hopefully we will overcome it soon.”

Peace talks between the two sides kicked off in Doha — where the Taliban have a representative office — on September 12.

The talks were expected to tackle thorny issues, including a permanent ceasefire, the rights of women and minorities, and the disarming of tens of thousands of Taliban militants and militias loyal to warlords.

Constitutional changes and power sharing are expected to be on the agenda as well.

However, reports of ongoing violent clashes back in Afghanistan marred an optimistic beginning and were stark reminders of the obstacles ahead.

The peace talks were held one day after the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States that were used as a pretext for the US to invade Afghanistan in 2001.

The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but were repeatedly delayed over a prisoner exchange under a deal between the US and the Taliban, which was signed in February.

Under the deal with the US, the Taliban agreed to stop their attacks on US-led foreign forces in return for the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Afghan government was a party neither to the negotiations that led to that deal nor to the agreement itself but acted in accordance with its terms.

But official data shows that bombings and other assaults by the Taliban have surged 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States.

In the US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, about 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown numbers of Afghan troops and Taliban militants. More than 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009, when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.

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