Afghan negotiating team ready for dialogue with Taliban 'at any moment'



The chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, speaks at a press conference May 30 in Kabul. [Abdullah Abdullah]

KABUL -- Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said on Saturday (May 30) that his team was ready to start dialogue with Taliban insurgents "at any moment".

A lull in violence triggered by a surprise ceasefire offered by the militants had set the tone for launching discussions, said Abdullah.

"The ceasefire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning," Abdullah said at his first news conference since taking on the role.

"The negotiating team is ready to begin the talks at any moment," he added.


A member of Afghan security forces May 30 in Kabul investigates a damaged vehicle that was carrying employees of Khurshid TV when a bomb exploded. [STR/AFP]

However, he insisted on a fresh ceasefire during the talks.

Soon after Abdullah's comments, a roadside bomb killed a television journalist in Kabul on Saturday.

The blast, which targeted a minibus carrying 15 employees of private television channel Khurshid TV, was claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The attack, which the government called "heinous", claimed the lives of a reporter and a driver, and punctuated an overall reduction in violence that has followed a three-day ceasefire the Taliban instigated on May 24.

The explosion in central Kabul targeted Khurshid TV's white minibus, the Interior Ministry said, and caused extensive damage to its front end.

It was the second such bombing targeting Khurshid employees in less than a year.

Last August, two passersby were killed when a "sticky bomb" -- a type of homemade explosive attached to vehicles with magnets -- struck a similar Khurshid TV van in an unclaimed attack.

Afghanistan is one of the world's deadliest places for journalists.

ISIS has targeted the media before. The deadliest attack came in 2018, when the group killed nine journalists from various news organisations -- including AFP's chief Afghanistan photographer Shah Marai -- in another Kabul blast.

'All on the same page'

The truce between the Taliban and Afghan forces officially ended May 26, but violence since then has stayed relatively low, though government security forces have suffered some attacks that authorities blamed on the Taliban.

The ceasefire and general drop in violence have injected hope into Afghanistan's peace process, which earlier this month looked to be on the verge of collapse because of soaring violence by the Taliban after they signed a deal with the United States in February.

Momentum has also been building thanks to the government's release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in recent weeks as part of a swap that has also seen the militants free government security force captives.

Late Saturday, Afghanistan National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said the government had freed another 710 Taliban prisoners since Friday (May 29) in a process that would fulfill its promise to release 2,000 insurgents in response to the Taliban ceasefire.

Abdullah was appointed to lead the process after he ended his bitter political feud with President Ashraf Ghani in May.

With the end of the dispute, the Afghan government appeared unified in terms of the peace process, a member of Abdullah's negotiating team said.

"Now we all are united, all on the same page on the question of peace," Matin Bek, a senior government official, told AFP.

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The negotiating team should include representatives of all layers of the Afghan nation and be able to represent every single individual of Afghanistan. This team should not be the only government team, because if the only government team talks to Taliban and Taliban come to Kabul, other groups will not compromise with Taliban. Therefore, it is better for the government to prepare all the groups to start the intra-Afghan talks with Taliban so that there will be a lasting peace in the country.