ISLAMABAD – On Saturday, the Taliban ruled out cooperation with the United States to contain extremist groups in Afghanistan, taking an uncompromising position on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between former enemies since the United States withdrew from the country in August.
Senior Taliban officials and US representatives will meet this weekend in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials on both sides have said the problems include the control of extremist groups and the evacuation of foreign nationals and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have shown flexibility in evacuations.
However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press that there would be no cooperation with Washington to contain the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan. IS has claimed responsibility for several recent attacks, including a suicide bombing on Friday that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims and injured dozens while praying at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz.
“We can approach Daesh independently,” Shaheen said, when asked if the Taliban would work with the United States to contain the Islamic State affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.
IS has carried out relentless attacks against the country’s Shiites since it emerged in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as the terrorist group that poses the greatest threat to the United States because of its potential to organize attacks against American targets.
The weekend meetings in Doha are the first since US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence when the Taliban invaded the country. The United States has made clear that the talks are not a preamble to recognition.
The talks also come on the heels of two days of difficult discussions between Pakistani officials and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Islamabad, which focused on Afghanistan. Pakistani officials urged the United States to engage with Afghanistan’s new rulers and release billions of dollars in international funds to avoid an economic collapse.
Pakistan also had a message for the Taliban, urging them to be more inclusive and pay attention to human rights and minority ethnic and religious groups.
Later on Saturday, Doha-based Al-Jazeera English reported that the talks had started. The news outlet quoted Ameer Khan Muttaqi, Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed foreign minister, as saying that the Taliban had asked the United States to lift the ban on Afghan central bank reserves.
There was no immediate word from Washington about the talks.
Following Friday’s attack, Shiite clerics in Afghanistan attacked the Taliban, demanding greater protection at their places of worship. The ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility and identified the attacker as a Uighur Muslim. The claim says the attack targeted both the Shiites and the Taliban for their alleged willingness to expel the Uyghurs to comply with China’s demands. It was the deadliest attack since US and NATO troops left Afghanistan on August 30.
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Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could herald more violence. Most of the Uighur militants belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has found a safe haven in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan for decades.
“If (IS) ‘s claim is true, China’s concerns about terrorism in (Afghanistan), to which the Taliban say they are receptive, will increase,” he tweeted after the attack.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the Taliban began busing Afghans who had fled the insurgent takeover in August and were living in tents in a Kabul park back to their northern homes. , where ISIS threats increase after the Kunduz attack.
A Taliban official in charge of refugees, Mohammed Arsa Kharoti, said there are up to 1.3 million Afghans displaced from past wars and the Taliban lack the funds to organize a return home for everyone. He said the Taliban have organized the return of 1,005 displaced families to their homes so far.
Shokria Khanm, who had spent several weeks in one of the park’s tents and was waiting on Saturday to board the Taliban-organized bus back home to Kunduz, said she is not concerned about the growing threat from ISIS in the province of North.
“At least we have four walls there,” she said, but added that she was nervous about the future after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government troops destroyed her home.
“Winter is on its way. There is no firewood. We need water and food,” he said.
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During the Doha talks, US officials will also seek the Taliban to fulfill their commitment to allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once worked for the US military or government and other Afghan allies. said a US official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak officially about the meetings.
The Biden administration has responded to questions and complaints about the slow pace of US-facilitated evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.
Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Samya Kullab in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.