January 22, 2016
ISLAMABAD—Afghan government and Taliban representatives are expected to meet in the gulf state of Qatar Saturday for an unofficial two-day discussion on ways to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
Pugwash Conferences, a Nobel Prize-winning science group promoting solutions to armed conflicts, is hosting the meeting. Afghan civil society and peace activists, as well as foreign observers have also been invited.
Organizers, Taliban and other delegates insist participants are attending the informal discussions in their personal capacity, not representing their “respective parties or institutions,” to share views on the issues.
Track Two peace talks
This will not be the first time the warring Afghan sides are being brought to the table for indirect, non-negotiation meetings, or Track Two peace talks, under the auspices of Pugwash Conferences.
The Kabul government has not announced whether it will send a delegation for the meeting in Qatar. The Taliban has confirmed its participation.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid, in a statement sent to VOA Friday, said representatives of its political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, will attend the meeting.
Muhajid insisted the informal discussions should not be construed as peace negotiations.
“It must be reminded that this conference is purely for research purposes with academic debates held on finding solutions to problems,” he said.
The Track Two discussions come as senior officials from the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan are engaged in regular four-way discussions aimed at clearing the way for direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Preparing roadmap to peace
The four-nation contact group has been tasked to prepare a roadmap and set conditions for starting productive peace negotiations.
It has already held meetings in Islamabad and Kabul this month while a third meeting is due in the Pakistani capital on February 6.
The Taliban has not yet indicated whether it supports or intends to join the four-way process to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Independent assessments suggest the Islamist insurgency has expanded its influence to nearly one-third of the Afghan territory in the past year and inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan security forces, taking advantage of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops from the country.