Talks between US and Taliban officials in Qatar have now gone on for four days with the two sides trying to establish a mechanism for a ceasefire in the 17-year Afghan war and open dialogue with the Afghan government. US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's meeting with Taliban representatives was originally slated to run over two days, and its unexpected extension was a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar. During the first two days, the talks focused on a roadmap for the withdrawal of the foreign forces and a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used for hostile acts against the United States and its allies, according to one of Taliban leaders, who wished to remain anonymous. "The mechanism for a ceasefire and ways to enter into an intra-Afghan dialogue were the two other big topics that were supposed to be discussed on Thursday," the official told Reuters news agency. Members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council (AHPC), a body which oversees peace efforts but does not represent the government, said they were hoping that positive news would emerge from Doha.
The Afghan Taliban has named one of its co-founders as the leader of its political office in Qatar, as part of a major reshuffle that comes as talks with the United States to end the 17-year war appear to gain momentum. The appointment of Abdul Ghani Baradar on Thursday was announced as a meeting in Doha between the group's representatives and US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad that was originally scheduled to last for two days entered its fourth day. In a statement, the Taliban said the reshuffle in their team, which included new shadow governors for several Afghan provinces, was "taken to strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States". It was not clear whether the talks in the Qatari capital were to continue on Friday, or how soon Baradar could join them. "Baradar will soon fly to Qatar. He has been given the new position because the US wanted senior Taliban leadership to participate in peace talks," a senior Taliban official said.
The US peace envoy for Afghanistan has hailed "significant progress" in six days of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed at finding a solution to end the 17-year-old war in the South Asian country. "Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past. We made significant progress on vital issues," Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, wrote on Twitter. The Taliban rejected media reports about a possible "agreement on a ceasefire". "Reports by some media outlets about agreement on a ceasefire and talks with the Kabul administration are not true," Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said in a statement shared with Al Jazeera.
The United Nations on Tuesday called for an immediate reduction of violence in Afghanistan, warning that civilian casualties at the hands of both the Taliban and Afghan security forces are on the increase. The U.N. mission also expressed concern about stepped-up attacks and brutality of the Islamic State group. A horrific attack last week at a maternity hospital in the Afghan capital has not been claimed by any group, but the United States said it bears all the hallmarks of Afghanistan's IS affiliate -- targeting the country's minority Shiites in a neighborhood of Kabul that IS militants have repeatedly attacked in the past. The Taliban denied involvement in the maternity hospital attack, which killed 24 people, including two infants and several new mothers. The U.N. report blamed the Taliban for killing or injuring a total of 208 civilians last month and also said that operations by Afghan forces in April had killed or injured 172 civilians.
Doha, Qatar - The Afghan government has deliberately delayed the release of Taliban prisoners to impede the so-called intra-Afghan talks, Taliban officials have told Al Jazeera, as at least 100 inmates remain in jail. "Approximately 100 Taliban inmates are still in jail. Some have been released in the last 24 hours and we have been assured that those remaining will be released soon," Mohammad Naeem Wardak, the spokesperson for Taliban's political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, told Al Jazeera. "Our agreement is with the Americans and we have asked them to ensure that their side of the agreement is implemented. They keep giving us various reasons for the delay. We are ready to talk as soon as the prisoner release is complete," Wardak said, referring to the agreement signed in February.