KABUL -- Afghan government representatives arrived in Doha on January 5 for a new round of peace negotiations with the Taliban in the Qatari capital.
The sides are scheduled to resume their power-sharing talks following a 20-day hiatus, amid continued violence and chaos across Afghanistan that have threatened efforts to put an end to nearly two decades of war.
The direct intra-Afghan talks began in September some seven months after the Taliban reached an agreement with the United States.
It took about three months for the sides to agree on key procedural issues for the negotiations, allowing the talks to advance to more substantive issues, including reaching an elusive cease-fire.
Before the Afghan negotiating team headed to Doha for the second round of negotiations, the High Council for National Reconciliation provided “clear guidelines” for the talks, according to Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the council leading the peace process in the country.
Abdullah said the team has a "mandate to discuss the peace agenda.”
“We are committed to achieving a lasting peace, and we ask the Taliban to do their part,” he said.
A spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha told RFE/RL that they are fully prepared to participate in the new round of talks.
The international community has urged both sides to reduce hostilities and move quickly toward a negotiated settlement amid ongoing violence and clashes across much of Afghanistan.
Afghan government officials and the U.S. military have also accused the Taliban of a string of bomb attacks and targeted killings of government employees, journalists, clerics, politicians, and human rights activists.
The militant group has rejected some of the accusations and alleged that recent U.S. air strikes against insurgents violated the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in Doha last February--a charge rejected by the U.S. military.
In a January 4 tweet, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to “demonstrate they are acting in the best interest of the Afghan people by making real compromises and negotiating an agreement on a political settlement as soon as possible and an immediate significant reduction in violence/ceasefire.”
"The current levels of violence, including targeted killings, is unacceptable. Those perpetuating the violence seek to undermine the peace process and the country's future. They do not reflect the will of the Afghan people, who yearn for peace,” Khalilzad wrote in a separate tweet.
Ahead of the resumption of talks, Ahmad Zia Siraj, Afghanistan's spy chief, told parliament on January 4 that he assessed the “Taliban are planning to drag the talks out until the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan” as early as May.
"We do not see the Taliban has any intention or will for peace," he said.
The Western-backed government in Kabul has held power in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, though the Taliban controls large swaths of the country.
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, all foreign forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group. NATO has roughly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan from several countries.
In November, the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump announced that 2,000 U.S. troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-January, leaving just 2,500 behind.
The pace of any further U.S. withdrawal is expected to be determined after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20.