The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has departed for Qatar, as both the Afghan government and the Taliban expressed their readiness to start peace talks.
Khalilzad "will be traveling in the region to advance ongoing U.S. efforts to promote the immediate start of intra-Afghan negotiations," U.S. State Department said in a statement on September 5.
"The Afghan people are ready for a sustainable reduction in violence and a political settlement that will end the war," the statement said.
"All sides have taken important steps to remove obstacles for the start of [the talks.] Now is the time to start," it added.
The Taliban delegation arrived in Qatar earlier on September 5, paving the way for the start of the long-delayed intra-Afghan talks that are expected to take place in the Gulf state.
"All members of our negotiating team have arrived in Doha. The talks will begin once some small technical issues are resolved," Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the militant group, told the AFP news agency on September 5.
In Kabul, Faraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the High Council for National Reconciliation, said the government was ready to start direct negotiations.
“The process of releasing the prisoners is over and there is no excuse for delaying the talks, but the Taliban are still not ready to take part in the talks,” Khawzoon tweeted on September 5, without further elaboration.
The talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are a crucial part of a peace deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February.
Until the deal with the United States, the Taliban refused to directly negotiate with the Afghan government.
The talks were initially due to begin in March, but disagreements over ongoing violence and the prisoner swap have seen the start repeatedly pushed back.
The United States has ramped up pressure on Afghans on both sides of the conflict to open up negotiations over what a postwar Afghanistan might look like, how the rights of women and minorities would be protected, and how the tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and progovernment militias are disarmed and reintegrated.