The Afghan Taliban militant group says it is to meet with American representatives in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad next week for a new round of direct negotiations, which have so far excluded the Afghan government itself.
The militant group said on Wednesday that separate meetings would be held in Islamabad and “by the formal invitation of the government of Pakistan” on February 18.
The group also announced that its delegates would meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for “comprehensive discussions about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.”
Islamabad did not immediately confirm the talks, and the US said it had not received a formal invitation to the talks from Pakistani officials. Washington said, however, that it had “noted” the announcement, which comes after weeks of meetings between American and Taliban officials.
“We are not going to negotiate in public,” a US State Department spokesperson told AFP. “This is the beginning of a long process, which we continue to work through private diplomatic channels.”
The developments come as US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tours the globe, attempting to shore up support for a peace process that could pave the way for a political settlement to the 17-year war in the Asian country and bring all Afghan parties to the table.
“The Afghans must sit across the table with each other and come to an agreement about the future of their country,” Khalilzad said in Washington last week. “Nothing is agreed until everything has been agreed to.”
In spite of that public statement, the talks have so far been limited to the US and the Taliban; and the militant group also recently held talks with opposition Afghan politicians in the Russian capital of Moscow — all of which signals the group’s deliberate attempt to snub Kabul.
The talks in Qatar are the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at putting an end to the US-led war in Afghanistan.
The government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — excluded from the talks — has complained about the matter and repeatedly stressed that any peace plan must include the Afghan government.
Earlier this week, the Taliban dismissed President Ghani’s offer to open a political office in Afghanistan, saying the offer was aimed at “harming the peace efforts.”
The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end with a US-led invasion in 2001; but 17 years on, the militant group continues to be active on much of Afghan soil.
Currently, Kabul only controls 55 percent of the country’s territory, while the militants have a grip on 12 percent of Afghan soil, according to a report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published in October last year. About a third of the country remains contested.
Daesh has also used the mayhem in Afghanistan to establish a foothold there.