KABUL, Oct 13, (Agencies): A Taleban delegation has met with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar to discuss ending the Afghan conflict, the militant group said Saturday, in the first official confirmation of talks between the two sides. The landmark meeting was held as Khalilzad seeks to coordinate efforts with regional countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to bring the Taleban to the negotiating table.
The meeting with Khalilzad and other American officials took place in Doha on Friday, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement sent to journalists. The Taleban had reportedly met with US officials in July after an unprecedented ceasefire in June, which fuelled hopes that talks could bring an end to fighting after 17 years. That meeting was not confirmed on the record by either side, but there has been widespread speculation since then that more talks were planned.
A wave of attacks by the Taleban and the Islamic State group in recent months, however, has poured cold water on the nascent optimism for peace. A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the Taleban statement. During the latest meeting, Taleban and US negotiators discussed a “peaceful end to the invasion in Afghanistan”, Mujahid said. Both sides “agreed to continue such meetings”, he added, without providing further details.
The statement was issued as Khalilzad returned to Kabul after a regional trip that began with his first visit to Afghanistan since his appointment last month as US envoy. Meanwhile, a motorcycle rigged with explosives detonated at an election rally in northeastern Afghanistan on Saturday killing at least 14 people, including civilians and security forces, officials said.
Khalil Aser, spokesman for the provincial police chief in Takhar province, said 32 others were wounded when the explosives-laden motorbike parked near the rally in Rustaq district exploded. “There are a number of wounded people in critical condition,” he said. The attack took place at about noon before Nazefa YusoufiBeg, a female candidate running for a seat in parliament in Oct 20 elections, arrived at the rally, Aser said. It was not immediately clear if she was the target. Jawad Hajri, spokesman for the provincial governor, said Rustaq is a remote district where insurgent attacks have not occurred in the past and the candidate’s supporters had gathered for the rally confident they would be safe.