Abdullah Sahil / AP
ISLAMABAD (AP) – The Taliban on Saturday decided to work with the United States to contain extremist groups in Afghanistan, issuing an uncompromising position on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between former enemies since America left the country in August.
Senior Taliban officials and U.S. representatives are meeting this weekend in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials from both sides said the issues included the reining of extremist groups and the evacuation of foreign nationals and Afghans from the country. The Taliban has signaled flexibility in evacuations.
However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press that there was no cooperation with Washington which contains the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan. IS has been responsible for several recent attacks, including a bombing on Friday that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims and injured a dozen of them praying at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz.
“We are able to discuss Daesh independently,” Shaheen said, when asked if the Taliban would work with the U.S. containing Islamic State affiliation. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.
IS has carried out relentless attacks on the country’s Shiites since its emergence in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as the terror group that posed the greatest threat to the United States for its potential to attack terrorists. target in America.
The weekend meetings in Doha were the first since U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, culminating in a 20-year military presence as the Taliban occupied the country. The US clarified that the talks were not prior to recognition.
The talks also stemmed from two days of difficult discussions between Pakistani officials and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Islamabad focused on Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have urged the US to engage with Afghanistan’s new leaders and release billions of dollars in international funds to prevent the economy from sinking.
Pakistan also has a message for the Taliban, urging them to be more involved and pay attention to the human and minority rights of ethnic and religious groups.
Later on Saturday, Doha-based Al-Jazeera English reported that the conversation had begun. The news outlet quoted Ameer Khan Muttaqi, the designated Taliban minister for Afghanistan, as saying the Taliban had asked the US to lift its ban on Afghanistan’s central bank reserves.
There was no immediate word from Washington in the talks.
After the attack on Friday, Afghanistan’s Shiites attacked the Taliban, demanding more protection at their places of worship. The IS affiliate claimed responsibility and identified the bomber as a Uyghur Muslim. The statement said the attack was targeted at both Shiites and the Taliban for their willingness to expel Uyghurs to meet demands from China. It was the deadliest attack since Afghanistan and Afghan troops left on August 30.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could have been a source of more violence. Most Uyghur militants belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has found a safe haven in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan for decades.
“If the (IS) claim is true, China’s concerns about terrorism in (Afghanistan) —which the Taliban has said will be accepted — will increase,” he tweeted following the attack.
Meanwhile, the Taliban on Saturday began traveling with Afghans who fled rebel occupation in August and lived in tents in a Kabul park back to their homes in the north of the country, where threats are rising from IS following the Kunduz attacks.
A Taliban official in charge of the refugees, Mohammed Arsa Kharoti, said there were up to 1.3 million Afghans who had fled from past wars and that the Taliban had no funds to arrange repatriation for everyone. He said the Taliban had organized the repatriation of 1,005 families who had fled their homes so far.
Shokria Khanm, who spent several weeks in one of the tents in the park and waited on Saturday to board the bus arranged by the Taliban on his way home to Kunduz, said he was not concerned about the growing IS threat to the northern province.
“At least there we have four walls,” he said but added that he was nervous about the future after fighting between Taliban government troops and Afghanistan destroyed his home.
“Winter is coming. There is no firewood. We need water and food,” he said.
During the Doha talks, U.S. officials will also seek to keep the Taliban in their commitment to allow Americans and other foreigners to leave Afghanistan, including Afghans formerly working for the U.S. military. or Afghanistan’s government and other allies, a U.S. official said. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because the officer was not allowed to speak on the record about the meetings.
The Biden administration has raised questions and complaints about the slow pace of evacuation accelerated by the U.S. from Taliban-led Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew.