Kabul/DOHA - The Afghan government on Sunday hailed a meeting of Afghan politicians and members of the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar as a crucial step in promoting peace and reconciliation in the country but once again reiterated that face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban were a must to end the ongoing conflict in the country.

Almost 50 delegates from Afghanistan and 17 representatives of the Taliban have attended a two-day intra-Afghan dialogue conference in Doha, co-hosted by Germany and Qatar, which kicked off on Sunday.

“It can be evaluated as a progress [in the peace process] and an opportunity for those Afghans who are present there in the meeting to share their ideas with each other,” President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told TOLOnews.

“It is not negotiation, it is a dialogue,” said Matin Beg, head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, who has attended the Doha conference. “The delegation from Kabul is a different delegation which will show to the Taliban [members] the changes in Afghanistan in the past eighteen years. We expect that the talks will result in official negotiations.”

Kabul sees two-day conference as progress in peace process

Meanwhile, Germany’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, in his opening remarks in intra-Afghan dialogue conference in Doha on Sunday said that he appreciates Afghans for engaging in a constructive dialogue with each other because of all the suffering the people of Afghanistan have endured and are still enduring.

“Gathered around the table today are some of the brightest minds representing a cross-section of Afghan society,” he said and added each delegate of the Doha conference has a unique opportunity and a unique responsibility to find ways of turning violent confrontation into a peaceful debate.

He said that Afghanistan wants and deserves peace, a peace that protects the rights of all Afghan citizens, especially women and minorities, and that leaves the region and the world more secure.

“Together with Qatar, we have taken the initiative for this dialogue because we want to do our bit in paving the way for peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

He appreciated the US efforts for peace and the US-Taliban talks over the past few months but said that the talks are important, but they cannot be enough. “Dialogue has to turn into a meaningful negotiating process,” Potzel said.

The German envoy said that Afghanistan’s future cannot be imposed from the outside, it can only be determined by Afghans themselves. “We understand that making peace won’t be easy. Your country is at the crossroads of competing for regional and international interests. But outside factors can only result in conflict if Afghans are divided. When Afghans stand united the region will recognise that its interests are best served by a stable and peaceful neighbour,” he said.

For his part, Director of the Center for Conflict Studies and Humanitarian Action at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, stressed the importance of the Intra-Afghan peace talks in Doha for its contribution to the communication between the components of the Afghan people, Pointing out that Qatar tried to hold this conference for the Afghan dialogue in April, and now this is the second and successful attempt.

He added in a remarks on the sidelines of the conference, that this is the first time that all the components and the spectrum of the Afghan people have met and this is an important achievement done by Doha, expressing his hope that the conference would produce good and satisfactory results for all and that there will be dialogue that achieves progress, as was the case in the peace talks between the United States and Taliban. It is worth mentioning that Afghanistan is at an important crossroads to seize the opportunity to achieve peace, so the direct consensus between the Afghan parties is one of the most important elements for any process leading to this goal.

The State of Qatar and Germany hope that this conference will contribute to building trust between the main parties representing the vast majority of the people and Afghan society, in order to support peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region in general.

CAR BOMB KILLS 14

AT GHAZNI INTEL OFFICE

An attack on a government security compound in central Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 180, including scores of children.

Taliban fighters detonated a car bomb in Ghazni city near an office of Afghanistan’s main intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), during Sunday morning’s rush hour, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying in a statement dozens of NDS officers were killed or wounded.

“It is unfathomable to endanger children in this way and I strongly condemn this attack,” US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a tweet.

Health officials in Ghazni said 13 adults, including eight NDS members, and a child were killed. At least 60 children who were attending classes in a private school situated near the blast site were among the 180 people wounded. Doors and windows of the school were destroyed in the powerful explosion, the children suffered multiple injuries caused by flying shards of glass and broken pieces of wood. “The casualty figures may rise as this is not the last report of those injured in the powerful blast,” said Zaher Shah Nekmal, a health director in Ghazni province.