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Taliban holds talks with US envoy in Qatar

 

Taliban officials have held three days of talks with the United States' special representative for Afghanistan in Qatar, Zalmay Khalilzad, aimed at renewing the peace process in the war-torn country, an official of the armed group said. The talks, which ended on Sunday, were confirmed by other individuals close to the group, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the negotiations.

The Taliban said its dialogue process with Washington was aimed at securing a timetable for the withdrawal of all the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan to pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue.

Last week, a five-member Taliban delegation had attended talks in Moscow for the first time at an international conference to discuss the Afghan peace efforts.

"A second phase (of discussions) should be held among Afghans (themselves) on how to bring about peace and form a government in Afghanistan," Sohail Shaheen, a Qatar-based spokesperson for the Taliban, told reporters in Moscow last week.

The armed group has reported that in meetings with Khalilzad, it is also seeking the release of its prisoners and the removal of international travel restrictions on senior Taliban leaders.

In a lengthy statement issued earlier this month, the Taliban had demanded the lifting of sanctions against the group's leaders, the release of prisoners and the recognition of their office in Qatar.

At the request of the US, a Taliban office was established in Doha in 2013 to facilitate peace talks but it was shut shortly after opening when it came under pressure over a flag hung outside the premises, the same flag that was flown during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Then Afghan President Hamid Karzai subsequently halted peace efforts, saying the office in Doha was presenting itself as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.

The flag has since been taken down and the office has been empty with no official announcements about a possible reopening. Talks with the Taliban have since been taking place elsewhere in Doha.