US to hold first in-person talks with Taliban since Afghan withdrawal

By: AFP      Published: 07:32 AM, 9 Oct, 2021
US to hold first in-person talks with Taliban since Afghan withdrawal
Taliban officials are pictured outside a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack in Kunduz.–AFP

The United States and the Taliban will hold their first in-person talks since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan starting Saturday, the State Department said.

The US delegation will meet Saturday and Sunday in the Qatari capital Doha with senior Taliban representatives, a State Department spokesperson said.

The United States has remained in contact with the Taliban since the long-time foes seized Kabul in August as US troops pulled out but the meeting will be the first that is face to face.

"We will press the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and to form an inclusive government with broad support," the spokesperson said Friday.

"As Afghanistan faces the prospect of a severe economic contraction and possible humanitarian crisis, we will also press the Taliban to allow humanitarian agencies free access to areas of need," he said.

The State Department stressed that the meeting did not indicate that the United States was recognizing Taliban rule in Afghanistan. "We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban's own actions," the spokesperson said.

The US team will also press President Joe Biden's key priority of letting US citizens and Afghan allies during the 20-year military operation leave the country.

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The United States says that the Taliban have largely cooperated on letting out US citizens. Around 100 remain, predominantly US citizens with roots in Afghanistan who are undecided on whether to leave, according to US officials.

But the United States acknowledges that it was not able to get out most Afghan allies who wanted to leave during a hasty airlift that pulled tens of thousands of people out of Kabul before the withdrawal.

The spokesperson did not specify who would represent the two sides. Senior US officials including Central Command chief General Frank McKenzie met with the Taliban in Kabul in August as US troops took over the airport for the airlift.

The development came as a suicide bomb attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in the Afghan city of Kunduz killed at least 55 people Friday, in the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country.

Also Read: Suicide bomber kills at least 55 at Shiite mosque in Afghanistan

Scores more victims from the minority community were wounded in the blast, which was claimed by the Islamic State group and appeared designed to further destabilise Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

The extremist group, bitter rivals of the Taliban, has repeatedly targeted Shiites in a bid to stir up sectarian violence in Sunni-majority Afghanistan.

In a statement released on its Telegram channels, the Islamic State said that an IS suicide bomber "detonated an explosive vest amid a crowd" of Shiite worshippers who had gathered inside the mosque.

The statement identified the bomber as "Muhammad al-Uyguri", implying he was a member of China's mainly-Muslim Uyghur minority.