ISLAMABAD      -   Pakistan and the United States yesterday showed optimism about the much-awaited intra-Afghan talks.

The two countries welcomed the talks to be held today (September 12) in Doha, Qatar, Pakistan appreciated the announcement; Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq in a tweet assured Pakistan’s strong support to the process and expressed hope that the talks would pave way for peace in Afghanistan.

He said: “We hope these negotiations would lead to sustainable peace in Afghanistan, which would bring prosperity to the country.”

A US embassy statement said the United States welcomed the announcement that Afghanistan peace negotiations will begin.  

“The start of these talks marks a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed. The people of Afghanistan have carried the burden of war for too long.  They yearn for peace.  Only through an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led political process -- one that respects the views of all Afghan communities, including women and ethnic and religious minorities -- can the parties achieve a durable peace,” the embassy statement said, quoting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

This opportunity must not be squandered.  Immense sacrifice and investment by the United States, our partners, and the people of Afghanistan have made this moment of hope possible.  I urge the negotiators to demonstrate the pragmatism, restraint, and flexibility this process will require to succeed.  The people of Afghanistan and the international community will be watching closely.  The United States is prepared to support as requested, the statement said.

It added: “The United States recalls the commitment by the Afghan government and the Taliban that terrorists can never again use Afghan soil to threaten the United States or its allies.  Now is the time for peace for Afghanistan.”

Qatar’s foreign ministry made the announcement about talks as a final hurdle over the release of six Taliban prisoners appeared to have been resolved.

“The State of Qatar is pleased to announce that the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations will commence in Doha on Saturday the 12th of September 2020,” the ministry said in the statement.

“These vitally important direct negotiations between the different Afghan parties represent a step forward in bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan,” it added.

The Taliban, while confirming the talks, said the dialogue “intends to advance the negotiation process in an appropriate manner and bring about comprehensive peace and a pure Islamic system in the framework of our Islamic values and higher national interests.”

A permanent ceasefire is expected to be at the top of the agenda as well as a political settlement to end the years-long conflict in the country.

The intra-Afghan talks were set to take place in March but have repeatedly been delayed over a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the United States-Taliban deal signed in February.

As part of the February agreement, the US will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.

US President Donald Trump said this week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha to take part in the peace talks.

The Afghan government negotiating team, including Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the National Reconciliation Council has been tasked to hold talks with the group. The team also includes women’s rights activists.