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Extended U.S.-Taliban peace talks raise Afghan hopes

Extended U.S.-Taliban peace talks raise Afghan hopes

US officials have held talks with Taliban envoys in Qatar for a fourth day, the militants said, as the two sides pursue a potential deal to bring an end to Afghanistan's 17-year conflict.

USA special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad's meeting with the Taliban representatives, which was originally due to run over two days, entered its fourth day on Thursday.

It is pertinent to note that the Taliban has not responded to this call by Ambassador Khalilzad.

Baradar, who coordinated the insurgent group's military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistan's military-controlled intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Baradar was described as a "heavyweight" by Kabul-based military analyst Ateequllah Amarkhail, who noted that he also has influence over Mullah Muhammad Rasool, the leader of a Taliban breakaway faction.

In a statement, the Taliban said the reshuffle in their team, which included new shadow governors for several Afghan provinces, was "taken to strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States". Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

In addition to the appointment of Baradar, "multiple changes have also taken place in the military and civilian departments", the Taliban said in their statement.

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The United States and Taliban officials have agreed over the U.S. troops pullout from Afghanistan in their extended round of talks in Qatar, an American media report said on Saturday.

The sources also said that Taliban has agreed not to let Al Qaida and Daesh to operate in Afghanistan. Mohammad Faisal, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, said it had "facilitated" the ongoing negotiations in Qatar and that Pakistani officials were attending the latest talks. The Taliban have staged a comeback in recent years and today hold sway over almost half the country.

Five senior Taliban leaders, who had been freed from Guantanamo Bay's detention center in 2014 in exchange for United States soldier Bowe Bergdahl, have already joined the Taliban political team in Qatar to bolster the office.

But the unexpected extension of peace talks was a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar.

Ghani warned that any truce the USA eventually signs with the Taliban must pave the way for direct talks between his government and the insurgents to decide all issues, including foreign troop withdrawal.

Pakistani officials believe any agreement at this stage will help bridge the trust gap between the USA and the Taliban, and will "add a much needed political capital" to Washington's account to achieve the ultimate goal of peace in Afghanistan. In return, the insurgent group has given assurances that no global terrorist groups would be allowed to use Afghan soil to threaten America or any other country in future.

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