Taliban, Afghanistan look to kick-start peace talks

A July meeting in Dubai between Mullah Abbas Stanikzai, the lead Taliban negotiator, and members of Karzai's High Peace Council have led to several informal meetings between the two sides in recent weeks, according to The Washington Post.

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So far, the meetings have been informal in nature and designed to set the parameters for formal peace talks, the Post reports. 

The seeming progress on a Taliban peace deal comes as news of a postwar pact between Washington and Kabul is nearly complete. 

Roughly 32,000 American troops have already left Afghanistan, with the remaining 68,000 set to rotate out of the country over the next year and a half. 

American and Afghan negotiators are reportedly close to finalizing a postwar deal that would keep a U.S. force in Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism missions and continue training local forces. 

Specifics on the total number and makeup of U.S. forces that will remain in Afghanistan after the White House's 2014 withdrawal deadline is still under debate

Afghan leaders have also agreed to grant legal immunity for U.S. troops in that postwar force, according to recent reports. 

The immunity deal is part of a larger bilateral security agreement, the pact that lays the groundwork for a postwar American force. 

Lack of an immunity deal for U.S. troops was a crucial factor in the failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq and set the stage for the recent wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the country. 

That said, the peace process itself "is at a very fragile place right now" as the White House and Pentagon prepare to pull all U.S. forces out of the country by 2014, Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, told The Associated Press on Sunday. 

The Karzai’s government suspended talks with the U.S. on plans for a post-war security deal after the Obama administration announced that they would begin direct talks in Qatar with Taliban representatives.

The decision coincided with the official handover of security operations from U.S. and allied forces to Afghan troops.

Prior to announcing the Taliban talks, U.S. officials had said Kabul would take the lead in peace negotiations with the terror group, working off a plan drafted by the Karzai administration.

However, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters in June that the White House's plan to reach a peace deal with the Taliban was "worth the risk." 

“We've always supported a peaceful resolution to the end of the bloodshed in the war in Afghanistan," Hagel said in a speech at the University of Nebraska. "I think it's worth the risk."