OCT 14, 2018: In a landmark development, Afghanistan’s Taliban have announced they met with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, in Doha, Qatar, before he arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday — Khalilzad’s Doha trip came back-to-back with visits to Riyadh and Islamabad.
In a short statement on Saturday, the Afghan Taliban said their negotiation team met with a U.S. negotiation team headed by Khalilzad on Friday and discussed “ending occupation” and working towards finding a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict. Talks will continue, the Taliban said in a statement emailed to journalists.
The Taliban account has not been confirmed by the U.S. or Afghan government. The State Department declined to say whether the meeting with Taliban officials in Doha took place.
It’s the second time in four months that US officials have held face-to-face talks with Taliban representatives.
Alice Wells, the State Department deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, met Taliban officials in Doha in July for what were described as talks about talks.
A Taliban official who was part of the four-person delegation to that meeting said it produced “very positive signals”.
The Taliban statement emailed to journalists identified the “presence of foreign forces as the greatest obstacle obstructing true peace and solving problems.”
“Efforts must be made towards a true and intra-Afghan solution,” the statement said, adding that both sides agreed to continue holding meetings in the future.
Later Saturday, in his second trip to Kabul in less than a week, Khalilzad briefed Afghan leaders on his recent engagement for the peace process in Pakistan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar has served as a meeting location for US-Taliban discussions since 2011, though its Khalilzad’s first try at negotiations as special envoy.
Flanked by Gen. Scott Miller, top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, Khalilzad briefed President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his deputies about his first trip to the region since being appointed last month aimed at expediting the peace process.
According to the president’s office, the U.S. envoy said Washington was ready to help Afghanistan with the peace process. It noted in a statement that Khalilzad said the U.S. would continue its efforts with the Afghan peace process alongside the leadership of the Afghan government.
The apparent push by the U.S. for the reconciliation process has raised hopes in the war-ravaged country.
Deen Mohammad, member of the High Peace Council, the Afghan government body tasked with pursuing peace with the Taliban, told Anadolu Agency that the efforts by Khalilzad, a seasoned Afghan-born U.S. diplomat who has also served as ambassador to Kabul, Iraq, and the UN, would help pave way for a peaceful settlement of the raging conflict.
“His back-to-back trips to Riyadh, Islamabad, and Doha demonstrate the seriousness with which he is pursuing a peaceful settlement,” he said.