ISLAMABAD – The Taliban on Saturday ruled out cooperation with the United States to contain extremist groups in Afghanistan and established an uncompromising position on a key issue ahead of the first face-to-face talks between former enemies since the US withdrew from the country in August.
Senior Taliban officials and US officials meet this weekend in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Officials on both sides said the problems include containing extremist groups and evacuating foreign citizens and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have indicated 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 taken responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a suicide attack on Friday that killed 46 Shiite minorities and injured dozen while praying in a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz.
“We are able to fight Daesh independently,” said Shaheen when asked whether the Taliban would work with the US to contain the Islamic State. He used an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
ISIS has carried out relentless attacks on the country’s Shiites since it emerged in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. He is also considered to be the terrorist group most threatening the United States because of its potential to host attacks on 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 overran the country. The US has made it clear that the talks are not a preamble to recognition.
The talks also follow two days of difficult discussions between Pakistani officials and US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Islamabad that focused on Afghanistan. Pakistani officials urged the US to work with Afghanistan’s new rulers and release billions of dollars in international funds to avert economic collapse.
Pakistan also had a message to the Taliban calling on them to become more inclusive and pay attention to human rights and ethnic and religious minorities.
Later on Saturday, Al-Jazeera English from Doha reported that talks had started. The news agency quoted Ameer Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban-appointed foreign minister for Afghanistan, as saying that the Taliban had asked the US to lift its ban on the Afghan central bank’s reserves.
There was no immediate news from Washington about the talks.
After the attack on Friday, Afghan Shiite clerics attacked the Taliban and called for more protection for their places of worship. ISIS acknowledged its responsibility and identified the attacker as a Uighur Muslim. The claim said the attack targeted both Shiites and the Taliban for alleged willingness to expel Uyghurs in order to comply with China’s demands. It was the deadliest attack since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan on August 30th.
Michael Kugelman, assistant director of the Asia program at the US Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could herald further violence. Most of the militant Uighurs belong to the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, which has found a safe haven in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan for decades.
“If the [ISIS] Claim is true in China’s concerns about terrorism [Afghanistan] – to which the Taliban claim to be receptive – will increase, ”he tweeted after the attack.
Meanwhile, on Saturday the Taliban began moving Afghans, who fled before the lightning takeover of the insurgents in August and were living in tents in a park in Kabul, back to their homes in the north of the country, where the threats are coming through after the Kunduz attack increase the IS.
A Taliban refugee official, Mohammed Arsa Kharoti, said up to 1.3 million Afghans had been displaced from past wars and the Taliban lacked funds to organize returns for all. He said the Taliban had so far organized the return of 1,005 displaced families to their homes.
Shokria Khanm, who had spent several weeks in one of the tents in the park waiting to board the Taliban-organized bus to Kunduz on Saturday, said she was not concerned about the growing threat from IS in the northern province.
“At least we have four walls there,” she said, adding that she is nervous about the future after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces destroyed her home.
“The winter is coming. There is no firewood. We need water and food, ”she said.
During the Doha talks, US officials will also try to keep the Taliban on their pledge to allow Americans and other foreigners to leave Afghanistan, along with Afghans who once served the US military or the US government and other Afghan people Allies have worked, a US official said. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as the officer was not authorized to record the minutes of the meetings.
The Biden administration has picked up questions and complaints about the slow pace of US-backed evacuations from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.
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