Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with one of the Afghan Taliban's co-founders in Qatar, in what was said to be the highest-level engagement between the two sides as part of Afghanistan's peace process.
"Just finished a working lunch with Mullah [Abdul Ghani Beradar] and his team. First time we'’ve met. Now moving on to talks" aimed at finding a negotiated solution to Afghanistan's 17-year war, Khalilzad tweeted on February 25.
Baradar was released in October after spending eight years in Pakistani custody, but until now has remained in Pakistan and has not made any public appearances.
His appointment as the Taliban’s political chief was widely seen as marking a new push by the militant group to achieve political and diplomatic legitimacy.
"Arrived in Doha to meet with a more authoritative Taliban delegation. This could be a significant moment," Khalilzad wrote on Twitter earlier in the day.
A statement released by the Taliban late February 25 said their negotiating team would continue to be led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, while Baradar would provide "instructions" when needed.
Meanwhile, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the militants' political office, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Taliban and U.S. negotiators held “introductory talks” on February 25.
Shaheen said official talks will begin on February 26.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Associated Press that there was "a possibility we will reach some results" during the planned four-day talks.
The BBC quoted an unidentified senior Taliban figure as saying that Baradar's authority within the group to make decisions could help "speed up the peace process."
The Taliban, which now reportedly controls nearly half of Afghanistan, has held a series of direct talks with Khalilzad in recent months.
However, the militant group has so far refused to hold direct talks with Afghan officials, calling them "puppets."
During their previous round of talks in Doha in January, U.S. and Taliban negotiators reached the basic framework of a possible peace deal.
The agreement calls for the Taliban to prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan and for the United States to withdraw its forces from the country.
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda extremists, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11 attacks in the United States.
U.S. and Taliban Begin Highest-Level Talks Yet on Ending Afghan War by Mujib Mashal – New York Times
The highest-level negotiations yet between American diplomats and the Taliban began in Qatar’s capital on Monday, with the presence of the Afghan insurgents’ deputy leader raising hope of progress toward ending the long conflict that is taking lives in record numbers.
The latest round of talks to take place in Doha since President Trump ordered direct negotiations with the Taliban last summer will focus on fleshing out the details of a framework agreement in principle both sides say they reached last month, Western and Taliban officials said.
At issue are a Taliban agreement to keep Afghan territory from being a haven for terrorists wanting to attack the United States and its allies, and the United States in return agreeing to pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
After last month’s talks, American officials said that any withdrawal deal must include the Taliban’s agreeing to a cease-fire and to joining negotiations with the Afghan government. The Taliban negotiators, the American officials said, did not have the authority to discuss a cease-fire or negotiations with the Afghans and asked for time to return to their leadership…