A senior Afghan official has confirmed that two secret rounds of peace talks between Afghanistan’s government and Taliban representatives have been held in Doha, Qatar, since early September.
The official, who spoke on October 18 to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan on condition of anonymity, did not provide further details.
Meanwhile, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan has also learned that a meeting in Riyadh on October 18 between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah focused on the status of Afghanistan’s peace process and the latest developments in Kabul’s relations with Pakistan.
Earlier on October 18, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported that Taliban representatives and Afghan diplomats had secretly restarted peace talks in September.
The Guardian report, which cited anonymous sources within the Taliban and the Afghan government, said one Taliban representative at the Qatar talks was Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund.
Akhund is the brother of the late Mullah Mohammad Omar, who led the Taliban from the time it was founded until his death in 2013 in Pakistan.
The two rounds of talks are the first known to have taken place since a Pakistan-brokered process broke down following the death of Mullah Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in May 2016.
Mansoor was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s southern province of Balochistan near the border with Afghanistan.
One member of the Taliban’s leadership council, the Quetta Shura, told The Guardian that the Qatar talks in early September brought together Akhund and Afghanistan’s intelligence chief Mohammad Massom Stanekzai.
The Taliban source said their face-to-face talks “went positively” and were held “in a trouble-free atmosphere.”
Afghanistan’s Tolo TV on October 18 quoted a source from the Afghan president’s office as saying that the country’s National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar also attended the meeting with Stanekzai.
A few weeks later, in late September, Afghanistan’s government sealed a peace deal with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — an Islamist warlord who has fought against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for more than a decade.
The Guardian reported that the second round of peace talks in Qatar took place in early October despite ongoing fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan government forces in the northern city of Kunduz and around Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand.
The Quetta Shura member told The Guardian that a U.S. official was present at both rounds of talks, but no Pakistani officials attended.
The Taliban source said Islamabad has lost much of its traditional influence over Afghanistan’s Taliban.
The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan declined to comment on The Guardian report.
Afghanistan’s government has confirmed that Stanekzai made at least one recent trip to Doha, Qatar.
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman and Ismail Qasemiyar, a leading member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council that oversees peace talks, said they had no knowledge of the reported meetings in Qatar.
The last publicly acknowledged meeting of Afghan officials and Taliban representatives was in July 2015 — a gathering in Pakistan with officials from both Pakistan and the United States present.
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