US officials: diplomat has met with Taliban
Seeking to inject new energy into the longstalled Afghan peace process, the top U.S. diplomat charged with helping find a way to end the war has met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, according to officials and a Taliban statement Saturday.
The meeting Friday between the U.S. diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban was the second that senior U.S. officials have had with Taliban representatives in Qatar since the White House ordered direct talks this summer in the hopes of jumpstarting the peace process. On Saturday, Khalilzad flew to Kabul to meet with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
The Taliban have long demanded that they meet with Americans directly instead of the Afghan government, which has made Afghan leaders wary of being sidelined. Western diplomats have described the Americans’ direct contact with the Taliban as “talks before talks” that could then grow into negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The Taliban, in a statement issued through spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, said six of their representatives met with Khalilzad.
“They talked about the end of occupation and a peaceful resolution for the Afghan issue,” the Taliban said. “Both sides agreed to continue their meetings in the future.”
Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations who was born in Afghanistan, is on his first trip to the region since being appointed by the State Department last month as special representative for Afghan reconciliation.
“The United States shares the aspirations of all Afghans for a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans see themselves included,” Khalilzad said in a statement, which did not acknowledge the meeting. He did not respond to requests for further comment.
The Taliban have long stipulated that an agreement to withdraw remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan is essential to negotiating an end to the war.
A Taliban source, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the meeting was exploratory and the discussion had included an “end to the occupation” as well as removing Taliban leaders from sanctions lists. A senior official aware of the discussions said the Taliban also said that the presence of foreign troops in the country would forestall any deal.
Despite a sense of urgency by the United States, prompted by President Donald Trump’s frustration with the lack of progress in the war, several Afghan officials expressed caution, saying that the conflict was too complicated to yield quick breakthroughs. On Saturday, Ghani’s office said that it had discussed Khalilzad’s trips to various countries, but it did not mention a meeting with the Taliban.
Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, an Afghan analyst who served as an official during the Taliban government and still maintains contacts, said the meeting was a positive step toward a peace process even if the Americans did not get what they wanted.
“The United States was trying to make a meeting between the Taliban and Afghan government happen, but the Taliban did not accept that,” Mutmaeen said. “This was the first meeting where high-ranking officials from both sides met, and the second meeting between Americans and the Taliban. Such meetings have a positive impact in the peace process and should continue.”
The meeting in Doha comes days after the Taliban called on Afghans to boycott parliamentary elections next week.