DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Afghans not to squander an opportunity for lasting peace in remarks to the summit between Afghan government and Taliban leaders here that represents the beginning of peace negotiations.
“As we look toward the light, we recall the darkness of four decades of war, and the lost lives and opportunities. But it is remarkable — and a testament to the human spirit — that the pain and patterns of destruction are no match for the enduring hopes for peace held by the Afghan people, and their many friends,” Pompeo said in his remarks to the conference as delegates from the Afghan government and the Taliban, as well as Qatari government officials, watched. “The United States will never forget the solidarity of our many allies and partners who have stood with us in the long struggle to end this war. Today we also remember and honor them. Nor will the United States ever forget 9/11. We welcome the Taliban commitment not to host international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, nor to allow them to use Afghan territory to train, recruit, or fundraise. We welcome the same commitments by the Government of the Islamic Republic. Afghanistan should never again serve as a base for international terrorists to threaten other countries. It took hard work and sacrifice to reach this moment, and it will require hard work and sacrifice to keep it alive, and to take advantage of it so that the talks result in a durable peace. You carry a great responsibility, but you are not alone. The entire world wants you to succeed.”
Hosted by the Qatari government, Afghan leaders from both sides — the Afghan government and the Taliban —gathered here in the Sheraton hotel conference center right on the Persian Gulf to begin discussions of a path to peace in the war-torn nation. These intra-Afghan peace talks are the next step to ending the war in Afghanistan —America’s longest war at 19 years running — following the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban reached back on Feb. 29. Afghanistan, moreover, has been at war for decades longer, and these talks seek to bring peace to a country torn apart by war for 40 years. The big push at these talks in Doha is for a ceasefire in Afghanistan — something that has yet to be reached, but U.S. officials have expressed confidence in the ability to achieve one — followed by further reduction in U.S. forces on the ground in the country. If everything stays on schedule, the U.S. could be out of Afghanistan entirely as early as next spring — in April or May — something U.S. officials who spoke with Breitbart News on the ground here in Doha expressed confidence is likely to happen and remains on schedule.
“Allow me to welcome you all heads and members and negotiating delegations from the brotherly Republic of Afghanistan,” Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said to open the historic Saturday proceedings, per an official translation provided on site. “You are all welcome here as brothers of powers in Qatar that is proud of hosting the important, historic negotiations. It is my honor to convey to you the salutations of his highness the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who wishes you success in these negotiations and that they achieve their sought objectives. It is my pleasure to express Qatar’s great appreciation of you answering its invitation to hold these negotiations, which reflects your keenness and understanding the importance of ending war and achieving permanent peace in Afghanistan. After signing the peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States of America, housed in Doha in February, and implementation of the wise directions from his highness the Emir of the state of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the state of Qatar pursued its efforts to start the intra-Afghan peace negotiations to reach a political solution that guarantees achieving peace for the Afghan people and realizes their ambitions of stability and prosperity. In this context, I’d like to thank the United States of America and all of the friendly countries for their valuable cooperation with us to facilitate the holding of these negotiations.”
Both sides — the Afghan government and Taliban — sent delegations here to Qatar to begin the peace talks. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan government’s lead negotiator and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan, called it a “very important and historical ceremony.”
“The almighty God uplifts and helps the Afghan peace negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement,” Abdullah said, per an official translation provided on-site. “This is the desire of our people. My heartfelt thanks goes to the brotherly state of Qatar in its push for to bring peace, especially organizing and hosting today’s event, the opening ceremony of the Afghan peace negotiations. I also thank the Taliban movement for responding positively to the demand of our great people for peace and showing willingness to negotiation with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. I can tell you with confidence that the history of our great country will welcome and remember today as the beginning of the end of the war and suffering of our people. Ladies and gentlemen, on the guidance of our sacred religion Islam and on the basis of our free will and the right demands of our noble nation, we have come to this country to achieve a dignified and lasting peace. We have come here with good will and good intention to stop the 40 years of bloodshed and achieve a countrywide and lasting peace.”
The Taliban’s lead negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — a co-founder of the Taliban and the head of the group’s office here in Qatar — also spoke to the gathered negotiators.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in the agreement of Doha [the Feb. 29 agreement with the United States], we have acted on all those points that were in the agreement,” Baradar said, according to a translation provided on-site. “We also firmly request the other side to act according to those things that have been agreed in the agreement so that we can have the process without any kind of a problem and with no problems and also in this ceremony I request and I hope that both sides pay attention to the presentation of the holy religion Islam and that very important purpose.”
Baradar said that while “the negotiation process may have problems,” it “should move forward with a lot of patience and a lot of attention in part and it should be continued.”
The two sides using different terminology to describe their country is particularly interesting. The government officials describing it as the “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” reflects the democratic republic installed after the United States took out the Taliban in response to 9/11. The Taliban officials calling it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan reflects the government they ran until the United States took them out after they harbored Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the plotting and execution of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 19 years ago in 2001.
Pompeo’s move to come here for the talks was welcomed by both sides and, as the senior most U.S. official here, he met directly with both delegations as well as with Qatari officials. Pompeo’s decision to come was last second, and Breitbart News accompanied the Secretary of State on the trip — which also included a later stop in Cyprus on the way back to Washington, D.C. More from this trip, including an exclusive interview Pompeo gave to Breitbart News about the talks afterward, is forthcoming.