Taliban say they held talks with US envoy in Qatar
The Taliban have held three days of talks with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar, where the Afghan insurgent group has a political office, a Taliban official and another individual close to the group said Sunday.
The talks are aimed at renewing the Afghan peace process and eventually winding down America’s longest war.
Seventeen years after the US-led invasion that ended Taliban rule, the militants control nearly half of Afghanistan and carry out near-daily attacks on local security forces and government officials.
The two individuals said Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mohammed Fazl, a former Taliban military chief, attended the marathon talks. The two individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the sensitive negotiations.
US officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The State Department has refused to comment on reported talks with the Taliban.
A third individual with knowledge of the discussions said the Taliban pressed for a postponement of next year's presidential elections and the establishment of an interim government under a neutral leadership. Abdul Sattar Sirat, an ethnic Tajik and Islamic scholar, was suggested as a candidate to lead an interim administration.
The individual, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Khalilzad wants to reach a settlement within six months, a timescale the Taliban said was too short.
Khalilzad also proposed a cease-fire, which the Taliban rejected, the individual said, adding that there was no agreement on the release of prisoners, opening the Taliban office or lifting a Taliban travel ban.
Khairkhwa and Fazel were among five senior Taliban members released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2014 in exchange for US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after walking off his base in Afghanistan in 2009.
US President Donald Trump harshly criticised the 2014 prisoner exchange, and in a speech last August pledged to send in additional US forces and redouble efforts to defeat the Taliban.
But that strategy has had little if any impact on the ground, with the Taliban keeping up a steady tempo of attacks and an Islamic State group affiliate carrying out massive bombings targeting minority Shias.
The Trump administration now appears focused on reaching a political settlement with the Taliban, and has given in to a number of the group’s longstanding demands, beginning with the holding of direct talks.
The Taliban have long refused US demands to negotiate with the Western-backed government in Kabul, which the insurgents view as a puppet regime.