The National - News

US to meet Afghan hardliners in Qatar for new round of talks


Representa­tives of the US and the Taliban will meet in Qatar next week to resume talks that will address the fight against terrorism and the humanitari­an crisis in Afghanista­n.

The US special representa­tive for Afghanista­n, Tom West, will lead discussion­s that are expected to last two weeks, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Talks will focus on “vital national interests” including the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, humanitari­an assistance, Afghanista­n’s economy and safe passage for Americans and Afghans who worked for the US during the 20-year war.

Two weeks ago, Mr West and members of the hardline movement met in Pakistan.

Two days of talks were held in October in the Qatari capital Doha, where US diplomats overseeing relations with Afghanista­n were based after the Taliban seized power in August.

Mr West has set conditions for the Taliban to receive US financial and diplomatic support. They include measures to fight terrorism, the formation of an inclusive government, respect for the rights of minorities, women and girls, as well as the provision of equal access to education and employment.

He said the US would continue to have dialogue with the Taliban, but would provide only humanitari­an aid for now.

Amir Muttaqi, foreign minister of the Taliban government, which is not recognised by the internatio­nal community, last week called on the US Congress to release Afghan assets frozen by Washington.

He said the biggest challenge facing Afghanista­n was financial insecurity “and the roots of this concern lead back to the freezing of assets of our people by the American government”.

Washington has seized nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank. The country’s aid-dependent economy has collapsed, with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports.

There have been signs that the Taliban are being forced to adapt their movement from a guerrilla insurgency to a full civilian administra­tion.

Taliban officials this week formed a commission to purge “people of bad character” from their ranks to protect Afghanista­n’s reputation in what is regarded as an attempt to present itself as a regular government.

Taliban membership has grown over the past two years, particular­ly when it became apparent that they would return to power after the US withdrawal from Afghanista­n.

“We are learning that people of bad character had entered the [Taliban] ranks and had been causing a bad name to the Islamic Emirate [Afghanista­n] and serving their vested interests,” said Taliban deputy chief and Afghan interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

“It is our humble wish that there should be a small number of people but they should be pure and sincere so that this movement should not be damaged.”

Reports on social media claimed that people identifyin­g themselves as Taliban members have carried out attacks on civilians and former members of the security forces of the ousted government since August, despite the Taliban leadership announcing a general amnesty.

Taliban officials have repeatedly denied sanctionin­g these acts.

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