Washington, DC – United States diplomats will meet with Taliban representatives in Qatar this week, the US State Department has announced, in what will be rare, direct talks between Washington and the ruling Afghan group.
The State Department said on Wednesday that Thomas West and Rina Amiri will hold meetings on Afghanistan in Astana, Kazakhstan, with representatives from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
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West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, and Amiri, the US special envoy for Afghan women, girls, and human rights, will then meet a delegation of Taliban representatives and other Afghan ministry officials in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The pair will discuss “critical interests in Afghanistan” during the Doha meeting, the State Department said in a statement.
“Priority issues will include humanitarian support for the people of Afghanistan, economic stabilization, fair and dignified treatment of all Afghans, including women and girls, security issues, and efforts to counter narcotics production and trafficking.”
US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021 after a 20-year war. The Taliban took over the country amid the US withdrawal as the country’s Western-backed government collapsed.
Washington still does not recognise the Taliban government in Kabul and has imposed sanctions against the group and its leaders.
The State Department said later on Wednesday that the upcoming meetings in Doha do not signal a change in the US position.
“We have been very clear that we will engage with the Taliban appropriately when it is in our interest to do so,” spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.
“This is not intended to mean any kind of indication of recognition, or any kind of indication of normalisation or legitimacy of the Taliban.”
Since returning to power in 2021, the Taliban has faced international condemnation, including from several Muslim-majority countries, over restrictions the group has imposed on women’s education.
The group banned women from attending university and subsequently prohibited girls from going to school past sixth grade. Earlier this month, the group also imposed a ban on women’s beauty parlours.
Late last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the Taliban of consequences if the group does not change its policies on the education of women and girls.
“And to be clear, we’re engaged with other countries on this right now – there are going to be costs if this is not reversed, if this has not changed,” Blinken said in December, without specifying what those measures might include.
Afghanistan continues to face a humanitarian crisis, with almost half of its population – 23 million people – receiving assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) last year.
Taliban officials have expressed a willingness to work with the US if Washington lifts its sanctions against the group.
The US and a coalition of its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda in New York and Washington, DC. At that time, the Taliban, which was in control of the country, hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The US-led forces were able to swiftly remove the Taliban from power, but they never managed to ensure a lasting defeat of the group or fully wrest control over the country. The war became Washington’s longest armed conflict.
The administration of former US President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban in 2020, agreeing to pull US troops out of Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden honoured the agreement, but the chaotic US withdrawal sparked a domestic backlash against his administration.
In recent internal reviews assessing the departure of US forces from Afghanistan, the Biden administration has acknowledged shortcomings in the operation while also criticising Trump for failing to plan for the withdrawal after the 2020 agreement.