Atmar said that last hurdles in the way of the talks are being addressed successfully.
The peace process has faced hurdles in recent months, including the release of 320 high-value Taliban prisoners and the release of 22 Afghan commandos by the Taliban.
“We are much closer to the start of peace negotiations that we have ever been before,” At mar said in a conversation US Institute of Peace on Thursday. “We are optimistic that next week, we will be making big progress in this respect.”
According to Atmar, the last hurdles in the way of the talks are being addressed successfully.
“We will be soon done with all those initial hurdles that were in the way of start the peace negotiations,” Atmar added.
On August 9, the Loya Jirga, the grand council of over 3,000 delegates, approved the release of the 400 high-value Taliban prisoners in an aim to start the intra-Afghan negotiations, but called for a ceasefire from the Taliban.
Atmar said that the drawdown of the international troops from Afghanistan should be conditions-based.
“Yes, we understand that the Taliban demand for the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan but we stress on a conditions-based drawdown of troops while we certainly demand the elimination and departure of all foreign fighters, terrorist fighters, in our country,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in an interview posted by his office on Thursday called the Afghan peace process a big achievement in his country’s foreign policy.
“The same America chanting “do more” and raising fingers on Pakistan, made a shift change and today calls Pakistan its partner in peace,” Qureshi said.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, on Thursday, said he is confident that peace negotiations will begin next week.
Abdullah said that the Afghan government’s negotiation team is fully prepared to participate in the expected discussions.
Intra-Afghan Talks Expected to Begin Next Week: Abdullah
Members from the negotiating delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan assured the country they are ready to speak to the Taliban’s negotiating team.
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, stated on Thursday that he is confident that talks between Afghans will begin next week.
At an event held at the Institute of War and Peace Studies (IWPS) to introduce the “Afghan People’s Peace Perception Survey,” Abdullah emphasized that the Afghan government’s negotiating team is fully prepared to participate in the expected discussions.
“I can say with relative confidence that intra-Afghan talks will begin next week. The list of people from the Political Committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation has been finalized and will be announced,” says Abdullah.
The Institute for War and Peace Studies, which has surveyed more than 8,000 individuals across all provinces about peace in Afghanistan, conclude that more than 86% of the country’s population are satisfied with the current peace process.
Furthermore, nearly 70% of those interviewed want to preserve the republic system.
“We want to promote a dialogue that will bring peace and the peace-building process out of the Afghan cities and out of the elite community into the rural areas,” said Tamim Asey, the head of The Institute of War and Peace Studies.
The EU ambassador to Afghanistan also said he considers the survey important in mobilizing people’s views on the peace process and he reaffirmed the EU’s continued support for Afghanistan’s negotiations.
“We support this process and look forward to the start of peace negotiations, we are still to see and to observe any gesture of goodwill and of confidence building from the other side of the negotiation and in that context, I would highlight ….. necessity not just for reduction in violence now which is a terminology (for which) we have no clear definition, but genuine and immediate and long-lasting ceasefire. I think this will respond to the expectations of all Afghans,” said Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon.
NATO Senior Civilian Representative Stefano Pontecorvo tweeted, “I met the Taliban representation in Doha. I reiterated NATO’s support to sustainable peace in Afghanistan which responds to the wishes of the Afghan people.”
Members of the negotiating team also said that they are ready to talk to the Taliban negotiating team.
“What we are confident about is giving people a shared Afghanistan, and insuring that our republic, with all its shortcomings and beauties, will not only be preserved, but will last,” stated Nadir Nadiri, a member of the negotiating delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, former government officials have criticized the United States’ approach to the peace process.
“We call this a kind of peace proxy, and proxy peace is like disabled peace; it can change just a proxy war’s methods, but it will not end the war,” said Ramatullah Nabil, former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Abdullah Abdullah remains optimistic about the start of peace talks, despite the fact that 320 controversial Taliban prisoners have not yet been released.
Govt Insists on Release of Afghan Commandos Ahead of Talks
A presidential spokesman said the Taliban has not completes the release of 1000 Afghan security force members.
The Afghan government has so far released over 5,000 Taliban prisoners, including 80 high-value inmates whose release was approved by Loya Jirga, grand council, earlier this month.
According to government data, out of the 400 high-value prisoners, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnapping that led to murder, 51 of them are accused of drug smuggling, 44 of them are on the blacklist of the Afghan government and its allies, 6 of them are accused of assorted other crimes, 4 are accused of unspecified crimes.
Dawa Khan Minapal, a presidential spokesman, said the Taliban has shown less flexibility towards the release of prisoners so far.
“They [Taliban] have not completed the 1,000 security forces they committed to release. They have released 800 prisoners. The main condition is that they should address their committment,” Minapal said.
Some Afghan politicians, including Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said last week that the intra-Afghan negotiations will begin within the next few days.
France and Australia have opposed the release of six high-value Taliban prisoners who are accused of killing French and Aussie troops in Afghanistan.
President Ghani in a phone conversation with French President President Emmanuel Macron on Friday discussed the process of Taliban prisoners exchange and the release of Afghan government’s captives held by the Taliban, according to presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Sediqqi said that President Macron stressed that the Afghan government has fulfilled all its commitments for peace, and now onus is on the Taliban to live up to their commitments by announcing a ceasefire.
Critics said the peace negotiations should start without any further delay.
The first round of the intra-Afghan negotiations is expected to be held in Doha. Some former officials said the efforts for the talks should be expedited. “Some of our brave young commandos who are in Taliban custody have been relocated from Shahi Kot and areas along the Durand Line. The Taliban has so far failed to release them,” said Lotfullah Mashal, a former military official.
“It is not the case that the Taliban is running from this chat. If the Taliban wants peace, they would not be in Qatar,” said Basir Salangi, former governor of Parwan.
Ordinary Afghans said they are tired of war and that the obstacles in the way of the talks should be removed.
“I have been in a war environment since the day I was born; very tired of the war,” said Shir Aqa, a Herat resident.
This comes as the High Council for National Reconciliation led by Abdullah Abdullah was expected to host the first meeting of its political committee on Saturday, but the meeting was not held and spokesman of the council did not provide information on the event.