US to resume talks with Taliban in Qatar: State Department

It will be the second round of talks between the US and Taliban in Qatar since the group took over Afghanistan in August.

Former US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad shakes hands with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar after signing a February 2020 peace agreement in Qatar [File: Hussein Sayed/The Associated Press]

The United States is set to resume talks with the Taliban next week in Qatar, discussing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and steps to ensure that the country does not become a “launchpad” for “terrorism”, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price has said.

The US delegation will be led by the US special representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, for the planned two days of discussions, Price said on Tuesday.

“They’ll discuss… our vital national interest when it comes to Afghanistan. That includes counterterrorism, that includes safe passage for US citizens and for Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and that includes humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country,” Price told reporters.

West, who replaced Zalmay Khalilzad in the role in October, had most recently met with Taliban representatives in Pakistan in early November.

Before taking on the role, he had also met with Taliban officials in Qatar as part of a US delegation. That session was held from October 9 to10, in the Qatari capital Doha, as US diplomats sought to develop informal relations with the new Taliban government.

US officials had previously spent months negotiating with a Taliban delegation in Qatar, reaching a deal in February of 2020 that preceded the US withdrawal and eventual Taliban takeover.

The Taliban then took control of the country in mid-August of this year, days before US and international troops withdrew from Afghanistan 20 years after a military invasion toppled the Taliban regime in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

‘New chapter’

On Wednesday, the Taliban said the upcoming meetings would open a “new chapter” in political ties with Washington.

“A new phase of negotiations will begin next week between Afghanistan and America in Qatar,” the Taliban said on their official Arabic Twitter account.

“At this stage, talks will address opening a new chapter in political relations between the two countries, resolving economic issues, and the implementation of the terms in the previous Doha agreement.”

The US has not officially recognised the Taliban government but announced in early November that Qatar would serve as Washington’s diplomatic representative in the country.

The US has repeatedly laid out conditions for the Taliban to receive financial and diplomatic support from Washington: fight “terrorism”, install an inclusive government, respect the rights of minorities, women and girls, and provide equal access to education and employment.

US envoy West last week said Washington planned to continue to dialogue with the Taliban but for now, it would provide only humanitarian aid.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have increasingly called on the US to release $9.5bn in frozen assets.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has effectively collapsed – with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports.

In a letter to the US Congress, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week warned that the country’s financial insecurity would continue to worsen an ongoing humanitarian crisis that could prompt further mass migration.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies