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Taliban make demands before agreeing to join Afghan peace negotiations

By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |   Jan. 24, 2016 at 4:07 PM

DOHA, Qatar, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The Taliban has released a list of conditions that must be met before the militant group will consider joining formal peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

A Taliban representative laid down the demands during the second and final day of unofficial talks with Afghan government mediators, lawmakers and civil-society activists in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday.

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Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Taliban's chief negotiator and head of its political office in Doha, said the group wants complete withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops, establishment of an "independent Islamic system," formal international recognition of its Doha office, the release of an unnamed list of prisoners, an end to "poisonous propaganda" against the insurgents, and for the group to be removed from a United Nations blacklist targeting its members with travel and financial restrictions.

Stanekzai also demanded a direct negotiating line with the United States to discuss a withdrawal deadline for foreign troops and for bounties on Taliban leaders to be dropped.

These are "among the preliminary steps needed for peace," Radio Free Europe quoted a Jan. 24 Taliban statement as reading. "Without them, progress toward peace is not feasible."

Representatives close to the Afghan government, including former Afghan interior minister Umar Daudzai and President Ashraf Ghani's uncle, attended the Doha talks, but actual government representatives were absent, the Afghan foreign ministry said.

The meeting was organized by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international Nobel Prize-winning group dedicated to conflict resolution.

The unofficial talks come as Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States engage in formal discussions aimed at finding a path toward direct talks with the Taliban.

The Ghani administration said it opposed the Doha talks, seeing them as a distraction from the official four-way discussions, which are being hosted in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

"Why would the Afghan government help the Taliban repair their image by talking on international platforms and acting like it is a legitimate power?" The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Afghan official as saying.

Taliban sources, however, said Ghani, in a written message reportedly delivered by acting Afghan Defense Minster Masoom Stanekzi on the final day of the gathering, had accepted the Taliban as political opposition and was ready to engage in direct talks.

The developments come amid a rising number of attacks by the Taliban across various portions of Afghanistan. The group said it was behind a suicide bombing last week that claimed the lives of at least six local television journalists in Kabul, as well as a similar attack in December that killed at least six U.S. soldiers in the Parwan province. One day prior to the attack in Parwan, Taliban forces captured the Sangin district of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

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