Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government opened in Qatar on Saturday, September 12, marking what U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralded as a "truly momentous" occasion in nearly two decades of gruelling conflict, AFP reports.
"We will undoubtedly encounter many challenges in the talks over the coming days, weeks and months," Pompeo said as he called for the warring sides to "seize this opportunity" to secure peace.
"Remember you are acting not only for this generation of Afghans but for future generations as well, your children and your grandchildren."
Highlighting the war's brutal toll, Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's former chief executive who is heading the peace process for Kabul, said 12,000 civilians have been killed and another 15,000 wounded since the U.S. signed a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban on February 29.
Abdullah called for an immediate, humanitarian ceasefire -- but his plea went unanswered by Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who made no mention of a truce in his opening remarks.
The Taliban want to reshape Afghanistan into an Islamic "emirate", while the adminstration of President Ashraf Ghani will seek to maintain the Western-backed status quo of a constitutional republic that has enshrined many rights, including greater freedoms for women.