Tale­ban con­firm meet­ing with US en­voy in Qatar

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

KABUL: A Tale­ban del­e­ga­tion has met with US en­voy Zal­may Khalilzad in Qatar to dis­cuss end­ing the Afghan con­flict, the mil­i­tant group said yes­ter­day, the first time ei­ther side has of­fi­cially con­firmed talks. The di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions - a long­stand­ing Tale­ban de­mand - were held as Khalilzad seeks to co­or­di­nate ef­forts with re­gional coun­tries, in­clud­ing Pak­istan and Saudi Ara­bia, to con­vince Afghanistan’s largest mil­i­tant group to en­gage in talks. The meet­ing with Khalilzad and other Amer­i­can of­fi­cials took place in Doha on Fri­day, Tale­ban spokesman Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid said in a state­ment.

Tale­ban and US ne­go­tia­tors dis­cussed a “peace­ful end to the in­va­sion in Afghanistan”, Mu­jahid said, re­fer­ring to the US-led in­ter­ven­tion in 2001 that top­pled the Tale­ban regime. But the group made clear that the pres­ence of for­eign forces in the coun­try was a “big ob­sta­cle” to peace. Both sides “agreed to con­tinue such meet­ings”, he added, without pro­vid­ing fur­ther de­tails. In a state­ment, Khalilzad said all Afghans “must be a part of this rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process”, but he did not men­tion meet­ing with the Tale­ban. A spokesman for the US em­bassy in Kabul de­clined to com­ment.

In July, the Tale­ban re­port­edly met with US of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Alice Wells, the se­nior of­fi­cial for the State Depart­ment’s Bu­reau of South and Cen­tral Asian Af­fairs.

Nei­ther side would go on the record to con­firm that meet­ing, but there has been spec­u­la­tion since then that more talks were planned. The re­ported July meet­ing fol­lowed an un­prece­dented cease­fire in­volv­ing Afghan se­cu­rity forces and the Tale­ban in June, which fu­elled hopes that fight­ing could be brought to an end af­ter 17 years.

But a wave of at­tacks by the Tale­ban and the Is­lamic State group in re­cent months and a failed at­tempt at a sec­ond cease­fire have poured cold wa­ter on the nascent op­ti­mism for peace. The Tale­ban’s de­ci­sion to is­sue a state­ment on the meet­ing sug­gests it sees the talks with Khalilzad as a pro­pa­ganda win, an­a­lysts said. The group has long called for bi­lat­eral talks with the United States, but Wash­ing­ton has re­peat­edly re­fused, in­sist­ing the process must be Afghan-led.

But un­der pres­sure to break the im­passe with the group, Wash­ing­ton ap­peared to change tack in June when US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said his coun­try was pre­pared to “par­tic­i­pate” in talks. “The meet­ing is a suc­cess for (the) Tale­ban. They were de­mand­ing to di­rectly meet with the US for a long time and they fi­nally got it,” said Afghan po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Atta Noori. “Al­though they have not agreed on any­thing... they could by­pass the Afghan govern­ment.”

A Western of­fi­cial in Kabul said the Tale­ban went pub­lic on the meet­ing be­cause “it suits their pro­pa­ganda”. The Tale­ban state­ment was is­sued as Khalilzad re­turned to Kabul af­ter a re­gional trip that be­gan with his first visit to Afghanistan since his ap­point­ment last month as US en­voy. On Mon­day, he met with Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and other se­nior lead­ers in Kabul be­fore trav­el­ling to Pak­istan, Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar for fur­ther talks.

On the same day Khalilzad met with Afghan of­fi­cials, the Tale­ban is­sued a state­ment vow­ing to tar­get govern­ment se­cu­rity forces in up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, which the United States is help­ing to fi­nance. Afghan-born Khalilzad, a high-pro­file for­mer US am­bas­sador to Kabul, Bagh­dad and the United Na­tions, is known as a blunt ne­go­tia­tor with hawk­ish for­eign pol­icy views. Flu­ent in Pashto and Dari, Khalilzad’s ex­pe­ri­ence as a for­eign pol­icy op­er­a­tive in the coun­try dates back to the 1980s, when he served as an ad­viser to the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion. — AFP

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