Afghan leader’s trip to Gulf state comes after years of stalled discussions to find negotiated solution to 12-year war.
The White House has denied media reports that US officials planned to meet with the Afghan Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Thursday, a spokeswoman has said.
“The United States currently has no meetings with the Taliban scheduled in Doha,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, said on Thursday.
“We remain supportive of an Afghan-led reconciliation process whereby the Taliban and the Afghans engage in talks toward a settlement to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.”
Taliban central spokesman also denied the proposed talks, AFP news agency reported on Wednesday.
“We do not have any plans for negotiations with anyone in Qatar. Regarding the negotiations, there is no new changes in the policy of Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan,” Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
Earlier, Reuters news agency quoting Taliban officials reported that the armed group planned to hold a first round of talks with US officials on Thursday.
Bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table would be a major breakthrough in Afghan efforts to find a diplomatic solution to more than a decade of war following the withdrawal of most US-led troops last year.
Reuters quoted three senior diplomats in the region who confirmed the account of imminent talks based on briefings from people who were at the meeting between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif on Tuesday.
Ghani’s office did not directly refer to any talks in a statement it issued but promised transparency.
“I will not conduct any negotiation in secret from my people and they will be informed of any development,” he was quoted as saying.
Previous efforts to negotiate an end to a war that began in late 2001 proved fruitless.
Attempts to get talks going in Qatar in 2013 came to nothing after the Afghan government objected to fanfare surrounding the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, complete with a flag and official plaques.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has historically close links with the Taliban, have been marred by mistrust and suspicion but Ghani, who came to power last year, has reached out to Pakistan and sought to improve ties.
Pakistan, for its part, is pushing for the Taliban to agree to talk in exchange for an Afghan promise to capture and hand over the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani Taliban are different from the Afghan Taliban although they share the same goal of toppling regional governments and establishing an Islamist theocracy.