UN, Qatar included in US-backed push to jump-start talks ahead of May 1 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban will attend peace talks in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4 in a plan to jump-start a peace process and sketch out a possible political settlement, host Turkey said.
The 10-day summit will also include the United Nations and Qatar as part of a United States-backed push to jump-start talks stalled in Doha ahead of a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
“The overriding objective of the Istanbul Conference on the Afghanistan Peace Process is to accelerate and complement the continuing intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha on the achievement of a just and durable political settlement,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The conference will focus on helping the negotiating parties reach a set of shared, foundational principles that reflect an agreed vision for a future Afghanistan, a roadmap to a future political settlement and an end to the conflict,” it said.
“Participation in the conference and its agenda have been the subject of extensive consultations with the Afghan parties.”
On Monday the Taliban had said it was unwilling, based on timing, to attend talks in Turkey initially scheduled for April 16.
A leaked US State Department report said Washington wanted the Turkey conference to approve a plan to replace the present leadership of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with an interim government involving the Taliban.
The US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been travelling the region to drum up support for a ceasefire and peace settlement that could include an interim government.
Official Afghan sources said last week that Ghani intends to present a three-stage plan at the Istanbul talks.
The first step involves reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing an internationally monitored ceasefire.
He then proposes holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a “government of peace”.
That would lead to a slew of development programmes across the war-scarred country and work on a new constitutional framework.
Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, a separate negotiating body established in 2010, is expected to present its own set of proposals after consulting different political parties and civil society members.
September 11 withdrawal?
Officials worry that violence in the country will surge if an agreement is not reached soon.
The Taliban has already warned there would be “consequences” if Washington fails to withdraw its troops by their May 1 deadline – a goal described as “tough” by US President Joe Biden.
Three sources familiar with the decision told Reuters news agency that Biden has decided to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after al-Qaeda’s attacks triggered America’s longest war.
However, the withdrawal would be based on certain security and human rights guarantees, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the formalisation of the decision.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, are expected to brief NATO allies on the decision in Brussels on Wednesday. Biden may also publicly announce his decision, the sources said.
Biden’s decision, should it be confirmed, would miss the May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed upon by his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration.
But it would still set a near-term date with withdrawal, potentially allaying Taliban concerns that Biden would drag out the process.