US and Taliban leaders to hold first talks since Afghan withdrawal

Senior Taliban officials and US representatives are to hold talks this weekend about containing extremist groups in Afghanistan and easing the evacuation of foreign citizens and Afghans from the country.

his is the first such meeting since US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence there and leading to the Taliban regaining power in the nation.

The talks are to take place in Doha, the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, officials on both sides said.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, who is based in Doha, said the talks will also revisit the peace agreement the Taliban signed with Washington in 2020. The agreement had paved the way for the final US withdrawal.

Mr Shaheen said the meeting would be “about bilateral relations and implementation of the Doha agreement”, which would cover “various topics”.


A member of the Taliban, left, talks to Afghans gathering outside a government passport office (AP)

Terrorism will also feature in the talks, according to another official.

Since the Taliban took power, extremists from so-called Islamic State (IS) have ramped up attacks on the militant group, as well as ethnic and religious minorities.

On Friday, an IS suicide bomber killed at least 46 minority Shia Muslims and wounded dozens in the deadliest attack since the US departure.

IS has carried out relentless assaults on the country’s Shia Muslims since emerging in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. IS is also seen as the greatest threat to the United States.

The US-Taliban agreement of 2020, which was negotiated by the Trump administration, demanded the Taliban break ties with terrorist groups and guarantee Afghanistan would not again harbour terrorists who could attack America and its allies.

It seems certain the two sides will discuss in the weekend talks how to tackle the growing threat. The Taliban have said they do not want US anti-terrorism assistance and have warned Washington against any so-called “over-the-horizon” strikes on Afghan territory from outside the country’s borders.


Afghan women pray in a Shia mosque during Friday prayers in Kabul (AP)

The United States, meanwhile, would seek to hold Taliban leaders to commitments that they would allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the US military or government and other Afghan allies, a US official said.

The Biden administration has fielded questions and complaints about the slow pace of US-facilitated evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.

US state department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that 105 US citizens and 95 green card holders had left since then on flights facilitated by the US That number had not changed for more than a week.

American veterans and other individuals have helped others leave the country on charter flights, and some Americans and others have gotten out across land borders.

Hundreds of other foreign nationals and Afghans have also left on recent flights.


Drug users detained during a Taliban raid rest at the detoxification ward of the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul (AP)

Dozens of American citizens are still seeking to get out, according to the US state department, along with thousands of green-card holders and Afghans and family members believed eligible for US visas.

US officials have cited the difficulty of verifying flight manifests without any American officials on the ground in Afghanistan to help, along with other hold-ups.

Americans also intend to press the Taliban to observe the rights of women and girls, many of whom the Taliban are reportedly blocking from returning to jobs and classrooms, and of Afghans at large, and to form an inclusive government, the official said.

US officials will also encourage Taliban officials to give humanitarian agencies free access to areas in need amid the economic upheaval following the American departure and Taliban takeover.

The official stressed the session did not imply the US was recognising the Taliban as legitimate governors of the country.

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