ISLAMABAD – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Friday the much anticipated negotiations between Afghanistan’s warring parties are likely to be “contentious” but stressed that they are the only way forward if Afghans are to find peace after decades of conflict.
Pompeo made his comments en route to Qatar in the Middle East, where the Taliban maintain a political office and where historic intra-Afghan negotiations are to begin on Saturday.
The start of the talks will be mostly ceremonious, before the negotiating teams of the Taliban and the Afghan government sit down to begin the hard task of hammering out a road map for a post-war Afghanistan.
The intra-Afghan negotiations were laid out in a peace deal the United Sates and the Taliban signed on Feb. 29 in Qatar's capital of Doha, aimed at ending the war and bringing U.S. troops home.
“It’s taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning, for the first time in almost two decades, to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward to reduce violence and deliver what the Afghan people are demanding — a reconciled Afghanistan with a government that reflects a country that isn’t at war,” Pompeo said on the plane taking him to Doha.
“It’s their country to figure out how to move forward and make a better life for all Afghan people,” he said.
President Donald Trump made the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan a promise before the 2016 presidential election. In the countdown to this November's presidential polls, Washington has ramped up pressure to get the intra-Afghan negotiations started.
At a news conference Thursday, Trump called the talks “exciting” and said Washington expected to be down to 4,000 troops by November. Even though delays have plagued the start of talks, Washington began withdrawing some of its 13,000 troops after the February deal was signed.