KABUL -- The next round of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government is slated to open in Qatar on January 5, Afghan officials said.
Earlier this month, President Ashraf Ghani called for the next round of talks to be held in Kabul, saying it was inappropriate to meet in "luxurious hotels".
But on Sunday (December 27) he agreed to resume the talks in Qatar, in order to avoid a delay, presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said, noting that "our stand on holding the next round of talks inside Afghanistan remains unchanged".
Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, leading the overall peace process, said its leadership committee had opted to hold the talks in Doha.
Many countries that had earlier volunteered to host the talks had withdrawn their offers because of the coronavirus pandemic, said council spokesman Faraidoon Khwazoon.
Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who chairs the council, conferred on the peace process December 27.
The two "discussed the venue for the next round of talks", after which Ghani announced the government's support for a second stage of talks with the Taliban, the presidency said.
Peace talks began September 12 in Doha, but both sides decided to take a break earlier in December, after often frustrating talks bogged down over disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Prior to going on the break, negotiators finally announced they were ready to proceed on preliminary lists of agenda items when talks resumed January 5.
Plans for renewed negotiations come amid a surge of violence across Afghanistan in recent months, including in Kabul, which has seen regular bombings and targeted killings of prominent figures.
'No option other than negotiation'
Hundreds of Farah and Nimroz residents welcomed progress in the peace talks at separate gatherings on December 18, calling on the Taliban and the Afghan government to declare a ceasefire as a goodwill gesture.
"We ask the government and the Taliban to work for a sustainable and inclusive peace so that all Afghans can live in an environment that is peaceful and free of violence," said Farah city resident Aziza Heseen.
Afghans want the Taliban to renounce violence and to focus on the peace process to bring an end to the bloodshed of civilians and security forces, she added.
Reconciliation and negotiation require compromise, said Farah city resident Muhammad Ewaz Danyaal, adding that both sides need to stop fighting and show flexibility for the sake of Afghanistan's people and its future.
"There is no option other than peace and negotiation, and every war has an end," he said. "The four-decade war in Afghanistan has reached its closure and declaring a ceasefire can increase hopes for a sustainable peace."
The next round of talks in Qatar will be a golden opportunity to put an end to four decades of war and to help Afghanistan achieve peace and stability, he said.
Parties to the conflict should respect the demands of the people and declare a truce as they engage in peace talks, said Farah city resident Ali Ahmad Akbari.
"As Afghan citizens, we call on the government and the Taliban to show flexibility with their demands for God's sake so that peace can come to the country," he added.
Call for talks in Afghanistan
During a December 18 gathering in the Nimroz provincial capital of Zaranj, hundreds of province residents urged the government and the Taliban to hold peace talks in Afghanistan, where they said the talks are likelier to succeed.
If peace talks occur in Afghanistan, they will definitely produce a result as all Afghans want peace, said Zaranj resident Ghulam Muhayuddin Atayee.
"We call on the Taliban to hold talks with their brothers inside their country," he added. "The Taliban should renounce the years-long violence and bloodshed and put an end to the killing of young people."
"We call on parties to the conflict to hold peace talks inside Afghanistan so that the credit for this peace can go to Afghans, not to other countries," he added.
"Both the government and the Taliban are Afghans, and they should place trust in their people and hold peace talks inside the country," said Zaranj resident Nisar Sofizada.
"We are confident if peace talks are held inside the country, they will quickly produce an outcome," he added.
'Religious duty' to stop bloodshed
The Taliban's war lacks religious justification, said Herat Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs director Abdul Khaliq Haqqani.
"God has prohibited war among Muslims, and if anyone who instigates war between two groups of Muslims, God will curse them," he said, pointing out that all victims of the war in Afghanistan are Muslims.
Parties to the conflict have a religious duty to stop the bloodshed, said Hezbullah Maulawizada, director of the Nimroz Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs.
"Islam has prohibited the killing of one Muslim by another, and no one has the right to kill a fellow Muslim," he said.
During a December 17 gathering in Herat city, more than 300 participants flagged fanaticism as the main factor behind Afghanistan's war, saying terror groups commit killings every day under the pretext of religion.
Using religion as a weapon, armed anti-government elements have encouraged youth to embrace extremist ideology and join their ranks, said Herat University journalism student Zulaikha Ahmad.
"We call on the government to crack down on religious extremism so that the terrorist groups can no longer misuse the emotions and beliefs of the young and provoke them to fight against the Afghan people," she said.