Senior Taliban leaders on Saturday opened their first-ever direct negotiations with representatives of the Afghan government in Qatar to decide a future political system and end the 19 years of war in Afghanistan. The negotiations that were supposed to start in March were delayed for months mainly due to controversies about the prisoner exchange. A Taliban official in Qatar said the Taliban and the Afghan government side met after the inaugural ceremony and formed a joint committee to decide agenda for the negotiations, a joint secretariat and principles for the negotiations. Formal negotiations will start on Monday after a day’s break for internal discussions.Taliban have appointed a five-member team to set in consultations with the Afghan government side. The Taliban members are Sher Abbas Stanekzai, Maulvi Abdul Kabeer, Maulvi Qasim Turkman, Sheikh Shahabuddin Dilawar and Maulvi Noorullah Noori. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who joined the Afghan and Qatari leaders at the opening session, later met with a Taliban negotiation team led by Mullah Baradar, head of the Taliban political office.Talking about his meeting with Mullah Baradar, head of the Taliban political office, he welcomed the launch of Afghan peace negotiations. “The Taliban? must seize this opportunity?to forge a political settlement?& reach a comprehensive & permanent ceasefire to end 40 years of war. This effort must be Afghan led,” Pompeo tweeted. Sheikh Abdul Hakim, a senior religious scholar, is leading the 21-member team in negotiations with the Afghan government’s 91-member team, which is being headed by former intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai. Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has refused to join the government and stopped its leader senator Ghairat Baheer from proceeding to Qatar.Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah urged the Taliban to declare a ceasefire in his speech. “Not only the Afghan nation, but also well-meaning friends around the world expect us to put an end to violence, agree to a ceasefire as soon as possible, adopt a comprehensive agenda and talks leading to a settlement acceptable to the Afghan people,” Abdullah said. Mullah Baradar did not respond to Abdullah’s calls for a ceasefire and said the negotiation process will most certainly hit snags but we ask for patience and tolerance during discussions and to deal with all topics in good-faith. However, he said the Taliban reassure its oppressed nation that “we shall proceed with sincerity in these intra-Afghan negotiations in order to afford our Muslim nation an opportunity to live a peaceful, tranquil and prosperous life.”Taliban chief negotiator Sheikh Abdul Hakim speaking to reporters said the issue of ceasefire will be discussed when both sides sit face to face.The Taliban on Saturday released a group of 22 Afghan soldiers in southern Helmand province as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of the start of the intra-Afghan dialogue. The Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the insurgents will take certain more positive steps during the negotiations to make the process successful.Foreign ministers of China, India, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Norway, Spain, Finland, and Japan, OIC and NATO chief also spoke via video link and assured their support for the intra Afghan dialogue. Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq represented Pakistan in the opening ceremony.