Afghan peace talks to begin on Saturday in Doha

Kabul (Reuters) – Negotiating teams representing the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents held a preparatory meeting on Wednesday in the Qatari capital Doha, with talks on a peacemaking agenda to begin on Saturday, both sides said.

Talks have begun just as U.S. forces prepare for another round of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this month – in line with an agreement with the Islamist Taliban last year.

The agreement envisages the United States and its military coalition partners pulling troops out of Afghanistan and ending a 19-year war in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

The negotiating teams met following a three-week break after striking an initial procedural deal in December, and are expected to cover contentious issues such as power-sharing and a ceasefire in this round of talks.

“The second round of intra-Afghan talks started this evening during a preparatory meeting,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter. It was decided the teams would begin substantive discussions on Saturday, he added.

The Afghan government-appointed team shared the same message on Twitter.

The beginning of the second round of talks has been welcomed internationally, including by the United Nations and NATO.