Senior Taliban leaders, including one of the group’s founders, were to hold another round of talks on Monday in Qatar with Washington’s special peace envoy as U.S. efforts intensify to find a negotiated solution to Afghanistan’s 17-year war, America’s longest.
The Taliban, some of whom arrived in Doha, Qatar’s capital, from Pakistan the previous night, raised expectations ahead of talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
“Yes, there is a possibility we will reach some results,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press.
Leading the Taliban delegation in Doha was Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the movement who was released last year from a Pakistani jail where he had languished since his arrest in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation in 2010.
Past rounds have focused on U.S. withdrawal of troops, which has been a standing Taliban demand, and guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used again as a staging area for terror attacks on the United States.
Khalilzad is expected to pressure the Taliban to hold direct talks with the government in Kabul, something the insurgents have so far refused to do.
The Taliban, who had harbored al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden, ruled Afghanistan before U.S. forces invaded in October 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Taliban today have resurged, carrying out deadly near-daily attacks on Afghan army and police forces and holding sway over almost half the country.
They view the US-backed government in Kabul as a dysfunctional Western puppet and have refused repeated offers to negotiate with it. However, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently told the AP that the Taliban would talk with Afghan government officials on condition they are part of a larger group of prominent Afghan figures meeting with the Taliban similar to the gathering held earlier this month in Moscow.
Ghani has also called a Loya Jirga, a traditional gathering of political and tribal leaders, for next month to draw up the government’s negotiating position for talks with the Taliban, though he has yet to put together a negotiating team that would have wide support of Afghan political and tribal leaders.