A Taliban delegation has met with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to discuss ending the Afghan conflict, the militant group said Saturday, in the first official confirmation of talks between the two sides.
The direct talks were held as Khalilzad seeks to coordinate efforts with regional countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The meeting with Khalilzad and other American officials took place in Doha on Friday, October 12, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement sent to journalists.
Taliban confirmed their officials met with the US special envoy for #Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, adding head of Qatar political office Sher Mohammad Abas Stanekzai, Mawalwi Salam Hanafi, Shuhabuddin Delawar, Qari Deen Moh. Hanif, Zahed Ahmadzai, & Sohail Shaheen were at meeting pic.twitter.com/z4VzVmCL76
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) October 13, 2018
During the meeting, Taliban and U.S. negotiators discussed the “end of occupation” and “a peaceful solution in Afghanistan,” Tolo News reported the statement as saying.
The Taliban delegation stressed the need for a “real and Afghan-inclusive solution.”
But the group made clear that the presence of foreign forces in the country was a major barrier to lasting peace.
Both sides “agreed to continue such meetings” in the future, the statement added, without providing further details.
A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the Taliban statement.
The Taliban 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 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was prepared to “participate” in talks.
In July, the Taliban reportedly met with U.S. officials after an unprecedented ceasefire in June, which fuelled hopes that talks could bring an end to fighting after 17 years.
That meeting, which reportedly included the U.S. State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, was not confirmed on the record by either side, but there has been widespread speculation since then that more talks were planned.
But a wave of attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State in recent months has poured cold water on the nascent optimism for peace.
The Taliban statement was issued as Khalilzad returned to Kabul after a regional trip that began with his first visit to Afghanistan since his appointment in September as Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
On Monday, he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior leaders in Kabul.
On the same day, the Taliban issued a statement vowing to target security forces in upcoming parliamentary elections, which the United States is helping to finance.
Afghan-born Khalilzad is a former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations. 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.
He is known as a blunt negotiator with hawkish foreign policy views.
With reporting from AFP