The Taliban have said they are holding a meeting on Monday with US officials, in the latest attempt to bring a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war.
The meeting will be held in the United Arab Emirates and will involve Saudi, Pakistani and Emirati representatives, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Twitter.
Khalil Minawi, director of Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar news agency, also confirmed the meeting. He said on Twitter that officials from the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the UAE held meetings on Sunday before “the Pakistani-sponsored US-Taliban meeting”.
While Afghan officials are not expected to attend Monday’s meeting, their presence in the UAE is a significant step in efforts to get the two sides talking. So far, the Taliban have refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it a puppet of the US and insisting only on negotiating with US officials.
While the US State Department has neither denied nor confirmed previous meetings with the Taliban, Washington’s envoy Zalmay Khalilzad previously said he has held several meetings with all Afghans involved in the protracted conflict – a reference that would include the Taliban, who control or hold sway in nearly half of Afghanistan.
A Taliban statement last month said they held three consecutive days of talks with Khalilzad in Qatar, where the armed group maintains a political presence.
Afterwards, Khalilzad went to Kabul where he urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to cobble together a team that could hold talks with the Taliban with the intent of reaching an agreement on a “roadmap for the future of Afghanistan”.
Khalilzad said he would like to see this agreement reached before Afghan presidential elections, scheduled for next April.
Since his appointment in September, Khalilzad has tried to jumpstart peace talks and has made several tours of the region. Earlier this month, he held meetings in Islamabad. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan later said Khalilzad asked Pakistan to assist in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Khan said Pakistan would sponsor the UAE talks and insisted that a military solution is not the answer.
President Donald Trump has long accused Islamabad of taking billions of US dollars while doing nothing to aid peace efforts and has assailed Khan since his election as prime minister last summer. Washington has suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Pakistan.
Khan meanwhile has responded to Trump’s rebukes by saying that his country was drawn into the so-called “war on terror” although no Pakistanis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, and that the war has cost Pakistan $123bn. Khan has also described the US contribution of $20bn to Pakistan as minuscule.