Kabul, June 15 (IANS) The Afghan government and Taliban have announced that the first peace talks between the two sides will take place in the Qatari capital of Doha, where the militant group has its political office and had signed a long-awaited peace agreement with the US on February 29.
“The Afghan government has only agreed for a first meeting to take place in Doha, there has not been any agreement yet on the venue of the direct talks,” Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan presidential palace, tweeted on Sunday and also later confirmed to Efe news.
The date of the meeting has not yet been announced.
The matter was agreed upon on June 11 in a meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and a Qatari delegation, led by Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, the special envoy of the Foreign Minister of Qatar for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution, during his visit to Kabul.
A senior aide to Ghani told Efe nes that the current agreement is only for the first meeting and the sides involved in Afghan peace efforts are still working on the details and to agree on the venue for the intra-Afghan talks.
“We will share official and detailed information about the venue of the direct talks meetings soon” the official added.
The Taliban has emphasized that no direct talks with the government will take place before the release of their 5,000 prisoners.
“I confirm the first meeting will take place in Doha,” Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the group at its political office in Qatar, told Efe news on Sunday.
Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were slated to begin on March 10 as per the US-Taliban agreement.
The Doha deal also set out an exchange of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 governmental prisoners before the direct talks would begin.
But the start of the talks has been hampered for more than three months due to disagreements and a slow process of the prisoner release between Kabul and the Taliban.
The Afghan government has only released around 3,000 Taliban prisoners so far in exchange for around 500 of its prisoners being freed from Taliban jails.
However, the two sides in recent weeks have shown more willingness to complete the controversial prisoner release process, once the two sides finalize the technical procedures of the remaining prisoners.
The Afghan government, which announced a 21-member negotiation team including five women in late March, has on several occasions in recent weeks said it is ready for talks with the Taliban.