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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

US, Taliban hold first face-to-face talks in Qatar since troop withdrawal


 Qatar condemned the deadly attack in suicide bombing at Kunduz mosque.

The Taliban warned the United States not to “destabilise” its regime and discussed “opening a new page” on Saturday, during the first face-to-face talks between the two sides since the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The two-day meetings in Doha, expected to conclude later on Sunday, have brought together members of the new interim Afghan administration, including Acting Foreign Minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, to focus on humanitarian aid and the implementation of the February agreement.

“We clearly told them that trying to destabilise the government in Afghanistan is good for no one,” Muttaqi told Afghan state news agency Bakhtar following talks on Saturday.

In February last year, under the former Donald Trump administration, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

The US said it would go ahead with the withdrawal if the Taliban halted its support for terrorist organisations.

However, President Biden changed the deadline to 11 September this year – before it was later revised to 31 August – without conditions.

Now with the Taliban in power, there are questions regarding the group’s international legitimacy as the country continues to face worsening economic and humanitarian crises.

In the latest talks between the group and Washington, Muttaqi said his delegation asked the US to lift its ban on the reserves of Afghanistan’s central bank and said the US would offer Afghans Covid-19 vaccines.

“Good relations with Afghanistan are good for everyone. Nothing should be done to weaken the existing government in Afghanistan which can lead to problems for the people,” he said, in a recorded statement translated by AFP.

The delegation also met with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Saturday, where the two sides discussed “economic projects in Afghanistan and other issues”.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, thanked the State of Qatar for its cooperation, and emphasised better relations in the future,” read a statement from the Taliban.

Meanwhile a US State Department official said that Washington’s delegation would press the Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a base for terrorist attacks.

The official added that the diplomats would also ensure that the new interim Taliban-majority administration forms an inclusive government while respecting the rights of women and girls.

“We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions,” the official said, stressing that the meeting was not an indicator of the US recognition of the militant’s rule.

Speaking to Doha News in August, Taliban’s spokesman in Qatar Suhail Shaheen said that the new government wants to have “good relations with all countries” on the basis of “mutual respect and mutual interest”.

Shaheen said that the group was also willing to hold talks with the Joe Biden administration.

Qatar has been playing a key diplomatic role over the past years, facilitating direct talks between the US, Taliban and former Afghan government. It also hosted the intra-Afghan talks in September last year.

On Friday, the Taliban delegation arrived in Doha for its first foreign visit since the formation of the interim administration. The group is also expected to meet representatives from the European Union.

Responding to questions regarding the international recognition of the Taliban over the past month, diplomats said it is not their current priority and stressed the need to focus on addressing the humanitarian crisis in the country instead.

Last week, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said that holding dialogue with the Taliban does not require recognition of the group.

She also said there is an urgent need for the international community to place a clear road map to formally specify the exact outcomes needed from the Taliban.

Doha has been at the forefront of evacuations since the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, rushing to evacuate over 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan in the world’s largest airlift of people in history.

The country helped house Afghan students, including the all-girls robotics team, known as the “Afghan Dreamers”.

More recently, the country announced plans to relocate the American University of Afghanistan’s campuses to Qatar, where students will continue to pursue their education under a safe environment.

Attack in Kunduz

Meanwhile, Qatar strongly condemned the targeted attack of a mosque in the Shia-majority city of Kunduz, where at least 62 people were killed.

The Gulf state’s foreign ministry reiterated its position in “rejecting violence and terrorism regardless of the motives or reasons” while rejecting “targeting places of worship and terrorising civilians”.

The attack, claimed by ISIS-K, was one of the bloodiest to take place in the country since the US withdrawal on 31 August.

The IS-affiliate, also the Taliban’s rival, has repeatedly targeted Shias in Afghanistan and carried out the bloody attack during Friday prayers. Shias make up about 20% of the Afghan population.

“We are really hurt by what happened,” Zemarai Mubarak Zada, 42, told AFP as he mourned his 17-year-old nephew.

“He wanted to get married. He wanted to go to university,” he said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres also joined in the global condemnation of the attack, while calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

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