Qatar is likely to host the initial round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government after the two foes complete an ongoing prisoner swap, a minister said Thursday.
The talks were originally supposed to have started March 10, but there have been repeated delays amid continued fighting and as the prisoner exchange drags on.
“There is a consensus that the beginning of the talks be held in Qatar,” acting Afghan foreign minister Mohamad Haneef Atmar told reporters.
The Taliban have a political office in Qatar’s capital Doha.
Atmar said 12 countries have offered to host peace talks, including Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Indonesia, Japan, Norway and Turkey.
The peace negotiations hinge on the prisoner swap, in which Kabul is expected to free some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for around 1,000 Afghan security force captives held by the insurgents.
So far, Afghan authorities have released 4,400 Taliban inmates, Atmar said, calling it “significant progress”.
“The Taliban must now show goodwill for the start of intra-Afghan talks,” Atmar added.
“Otherwise, they will be held responsible for the killing of hundreds more Afghans due to violence or corona (virus) before a date is fixed for the talks.”
Afghanistan is currently struggling to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections, with more than 35,000 confirmed cases and some 1,000 deaths.
The prisoner exchange was agreed in a landmark deal between the Taliban and Washington signed in February, which primarily stipulated that all US and foreign forces would quit Afghanistan by May 2021.
In return, the Taliban made several security promises and pledged to hold peace talks once the prisoner release was complete.
Experts expect the talks to be a lengthy and complicated process with several rounds of negotiations held in different countries.