Afghan govt. presses Taliban for truce

Militants urged to agree to a ceasefire in exchange for the release of more prisoners

The Afghan government on Monday pressed its calls for a truce with the Taliban, reiterating its desire for a long-term ceasefire at historic talks in Qatar.The two sides are in the early stages of meetings in Doha as they try to hammer out a deal that would bring 19 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan to a close.The Afghan government and its allies, including the U.S., called for the warring sides to lay down their arms at Saturday’s opening ceremony. But the Taliban, who fought a years-long guerrilla campaign against American and Afghan forces after they were toppled in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion, did not mention a truce as they came to the negotiating table.The head of the peace process for the Afghan government, Abdullah Abdullah, suggested, however, that the Taliban could offer a ceasefire in exchange for the release of more of their prisoners.Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi tweeted on Monday that the presence of government negotiators at the talks “is aimed at achieving a ceasefire, ending the violence and ensuring lasting peace and stability in the country.”The U.S. struck an agreement with the Taliban in February that will see it withdraw troops from Afghanistan. The deal, which paved the way for the Doha negotiations, did not commit the insurgents to any reduction of violence, only requiring that it be “an item on the agenda” in negotiations.But Crisis Group analyst Andrew Watkins told AFP “the Afghan government needs a ceasefire because without current levels of U.S. support, it would very likely continue to lose ground to the Taliban”.

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