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Qatari PM, Taliban chief held ‘secret talks’ in Kandahar on May 12

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WASHINGTON: The Qatari prime minister held secret talks with the supreme leader of the Taliban this month on resolving tension with the international community, a source briefed on the meeting said, signaling a new willingness by Afghanistan’s rulers to discuss ways to end their isolation.

The May 12 meeting in Afghan city of Kandahar between Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Haibatullah Akhunzada is the first the reclusive Taliban chief is known to have held with a foreign leader.

US President Joe Biden’s administration was briefed on the talks and is “coordinating on all issues discussed” by the pair, including furthering dialogue with the Taliban, said the source.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said other issues Sheikh Mohammed raised with Haibatullah included the need to end Taliban bans on girls’ education and women’s employment.

Need to end Taliban bans on girls’ education and women’s employment discussed; US administration briefed on talks

The meeting represents a diplomatic success for Qatar, which has criticised Taliban restrictions on women while using long-standing ties with the Taliban to push for deeper engagement with Kabul by the international community.

The United States has led demands for the Taliban to end the bans on girls’ schooling and women working, including for UN agencies and humanitarian groups, to restore their freedom of movement and bring Afghans from outside Taliban ranks into government.

The source’s comments suggested that Washington supported elevating what have been unproductive lower-level talks in the hope of a breakthrough that could end the world’s only bans of their kind and ease dire humanitarian and financial crises that have left tens of millions of Afghans hungry and jobless.

The White House declined to comment on the talks. The State Department and the Qatar embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The restrictions on women’s schooling and work have stymied humanitarian aid and are key reasons why no country has recognised Taliban rule since they seized power in August 2021, after the Western-backed government collapsed as the last US-led international troops departed following two decades of war. The treatment by the Taliban of women and girls could amount to a crime against humanity, according to a UN report presented in March at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Taliban say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of the Islamic law and Afghan customs.

Haibatullah, a hardline Islamist, has shown little willingness to compromise on his edicts.

His meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, however, suggests that he is open to exploring avenues for ending Afghanistan’s isolation and boosting relief programmes as the country sinks into hunger and poverty.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2023


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