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Afghan peace talks resume as bloodshed continues

Afghan peace talks resume as bloodshed continues

A series of killings has sown fear and chaos in Afghanistan as a new round of peace talks begins between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar on Tuesday.

Months of deliberations between the two sides have yielded little so far, but both sides made a breakthrough last year when they finally agreed at least what to discuss in the next round.

Afghan government negotiators will push for a permanent ceasefire and to protect the existing governance system, in place since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban by a US-led invasion in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

"The talks will be very complicated and will take a long time," Ghulam Farooq Majroh, a government negotiator, told AFP.

"But we are hopeful of reaching a result as soon as possible, as people are tired of this bloody war."

The Taliban did not offer any comment.

The first direct talks between the warring parties began in September after months of delays, but were quickly bogged down by disputes over the basic framework of the discussions and religious interpretations.

A concerted diplomatic effort by Washington eventually led to a consensus.

The negotiations follow a historic troop withdrawal agreement signed in February by the Taliban and Washington, in which the United States pledged to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.

Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been marred by an increase in violence from the start, but a new trend is a wave of high-profile targeted killings of officials, activists and journalists.

The deputy governor of Kabul province, five journalists and a prominent electoral activist have been among those killed in Kabul and other cities since November.

Authorities blame the Taliban for the chaos, although the jihadist group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.

"The Taliban aim to divide people and provoke criticism and frustration against government security institutions with these killings," Javid Faisal, an adviser to the National Security Council, told AFP.

"But the killings are bringing people together."

Nishank Motwani, deputy director of the think tank for the Afghanistan Investigation and Evaluation Unit, said the Taliban would not formally claim responsibility for the political killings, but nevertheless wanted to show "to their cadres that the Taliban are the ones who they are and have not changed. "

The Taliban carried out more than 18,000 attacks across the country in 2020, Afghanistan's spy chief Ahmad Zia Siraj told lawmakers this week.

The first nine months of last year saw 2,177 civilians killed and 3,822 injured, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Ordinary Afghans yearn for better security, but have little hope of immediate improvement despite talks.

"We have no security in Kabul. How long will we have to keep burying our loved ones?" said Jamshid Mohammad, a resident of Kabul.

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