Efforts ramp up to get Taliban-Afghan peace talks started

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FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2020, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, former President Hamid Karzai, right, and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, left, watch the live broadcast of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar after the signing of a peace treaty at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. Officials on both sides of Afghanistan's protracted conflict say efforts are ramping up for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, a critical next step to a U.S. negotiated peace deal with the Taliban. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

KABUL – Officials on both sides of Afghanistan’s protracted conflict say efforts are ramping up for the start of negotiations between Afghan representatives and the Taliban while a top U.N. envoy expressed hope Thursday that a formal launch will take place in “the coming days, not the coming weeks.”

The so-called intra-Afghan talks are a critical next step to a U.S.-negotiated peace deal with the Taliban. They are expected to start in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, perhaps within days.

The aim of the negotiations is to lay out a road map to a future Afghanistan, with the first item on the agenda expected to be a cease-fire agreement.

Calling it “a historic moment,” U.N. special representative Deborah Lyons told the U.N. Security Council that “after four decades of war the people of Afghanistan have more reason than ever to hope that this devastating conflict which has brought so much suffering may finally come to an end.”

“But let’s be clear, this will be a long and challenging process,” she said, noting that the issue of prisoner releases took five months to resolve.

Lyons urged all countries to amplify the U.N. call for a humanitarian cease-fire “as the negotiations begin — and they will begin.”

“Despite the air of cautious optimism, the level of violence on the battlefield remains deeply worrying,” she cautioned. “The last few weeks have seen near record numbers of security incidents, including egregious attacks by spoilers targeting civilians involved in the peace process.”

“As we look towards the peace talks, this violence also creates an atmosphere of mistrust that risks derailing negotiations,” she warned.