US new point man on Afghanistan meets with Taliban in Qatar: Report
US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has reportedly met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar in an effort to bring the militant group to the negotiating table.
Citing a person familiar with the meeting, The Wall Street Journal said Khalilzad met with the Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha on Friday.
It was not clear what the two sides discussed, according to the report.
This is the second time in the past four months that US officials have held direct talks with the Taliban amid reconciliation efforts 17 years after the US invasion.
The State Department declined to comment on the meeting.
“We can’t confirm specific meetings or the content of diplomatic conversations,” said a State Department spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Special Representative Khalilzad held a number of meetings with a wide range of stakeholders as part of his trip to explore how best to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan,” the spokesperson added.
Washington’s point man, Khalilzad, who is on his first trip as the special representative, also met with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, on Friday to discuss ways of achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan, Qatari media reported.
Last week, Khalilzad met with President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. He also held talks with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, as well as representatives of a variety of political groups, key civil society organizations including the High Peace Council, and Afghan media, according to the US embassy in Kabul.
The United States which has reportedly agreed to participate directly in talks with the Taliban, appointed Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, as the special envoy to the country in September to lead the reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.
The meeting in Qatar came ahead of this month’s parliamentary elections, with the Taliban saying Kabul had requested to help conduct peaceful elections.
The Taliban have generally insisted on negotiating only with the United States, saying they will not enter talks if US troops leave the country; otherwise, they will make Afghanistan “another graveyard” for foreign forces.
Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the US invasion in October 2001 but 17 years on, Washington seeks truce with the militants as it prepares for a long haul in the country.
The militants have overtaken several districts in a spate of brazen attacks in recent months, including Ghazni which was briefly overtaken by the militants last month, jolting the government in Kabul because the central city is close enough to the capital.
The militants are also fighting Daesh terrorists who have managed to establish a foothold in Afghanistan and recruit some of Taliban members who switched sides.
Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai has accused the US of propping up Daesh and using it as a “tool” for its own agenda in the country.