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Afghan talks ready to advance, despite Ghani opposition: sources

The peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghan government in Doha are ready to advance to the next stage, sources close to the talks said Tuesday, despite opposition from President Ashraf Ghani.The warring sides have engaged directly for the first time following a landmark troop withdrawal deal signed in February by the insurgents and Washington.The US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.The talks, which began in September, quickly became bogged down by disputes on the agenda, the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.But agreement has now been reached on all issues that had stood in the way, according to the sources close to the talks.Ghani, however, objects to wording that refers to his administration and the Taliban on an equal basis as “parties to the war”, an Afghan official said Tuesday.The source said a member of the negotiating team had travelled to Kabul to try to persuade Ghani to accept.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for “expedited discussions” during a visit to Doha on Saturday during which he met with both Taliban and Afghan government negotiators.The Taliban had in turn agreed to drop their requirement that the talks and any future deal be underpinned by their preferred interpretation of Islamic law.The insurgents had insisted on adherence to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.But government negotiators said this could have been used to discriminate against Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, and other minorities in Afghanistan.There has been a surge of violence in Afghanistan in recent weeks including a double bomb blast Tuesday that killed at least 14 people in the city of Bamiyan, home to many members of the Hazara community.The US-Taliban deal will only be mentioned in the terms of reference for negotiations, the source said. The insurgents had sought to use the deal, which makes no reference to the Afghan government, as the basis of their talks with Kabul.Last week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull out some 2,000 troops from Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline of a full withdrawal in mid-2021 agreed in February.burs-al-gw/hc

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