Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy for Afghanistan, is opening a new round of talks with the Taliban in Doha as Washington bids to speed up the process to end the 18-year conflict in the war-torn country.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban's political office in Doha, told the Associated Press that the talks were set to begin on June 29.
The same day, Taliban militants killed at least 26 pro-government militiamen in fighting in northern Afghanistan.
Insurgents attacked security posts in the Nahrin District of Baghlan Province.
A Taliban spokesman said 28 militiamen were killed and 12 injured, while a provincial police spokesman said 26 militiamen died.
A Defense Ministry official in Kabul said the attack indicated that the Taliban wanted to negotiate from a position of strength.
The Doha talks are expected to focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.
Khalilzad has held six rounds of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital.
The Doha meeting comes two days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Pakistan for talks aimed at drawing Islamabad’s help in getting the Taliban to talk peace with Kabul.
Pakistan has facilitated ongoing peace talks between Washington and the Taliban, but the militant group has so far refused to talk directly with Kabul government representatives, calling them U.S. puppets.
The New York Times cited Afghan and Western officials as saying that, if the Taliban were willing to meet directly with the Afghan government, U.S. negotiators might be willing to play their main negotiating card -- offering a provisional schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Ghani arrived in Islamabad a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Kabul, where he said Washington was hopeful of reaching a peace agreement before September 1.
The Taliban, driven from power by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, now controls large swaths of Afghanistan’s territory.
The New York Times said it had obtained a rare copy of a draft Taliban constitution for the group's intentions should it rejoin the political process within the Afghan government.
The 14-page document -- which the Times said was confirmed by people close to the Taliban -- "shows flashes of sophistication" but also "deep contradictions" within the movement over such issues of women’s education, justice, and tolerance of minorities.