WORKERS at a rehabilitation centre run by the International Committee of Red Cross help a Taliban member who claims to have lost his leg during a US air strike in Kabul.—AFP
WORKERS at a rehabilitation centre run by the International Committee of Red Cross help a Taliban member who claims to have lost his leg during a US air strike in Kabul.—AFP

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Monday that the weekend talks with the Taliban were candid and professional.

During the weekend, the Biden administration held their first face-to-face meeting with the Taliban in Doha since the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in late August.

On Monday, a State Department official told journalists in Washington that on Oct 9 and 10, an interagency US delegation travelled to the Qatari capital to meet senior Taliban representatives.

“The US delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners,” the department’s spokesperson Ned Price said.

Group will be judged on actions, not words: Price

US officials also focused on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society, he said.

“The two sides also discussed the provision of robust US humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people,” Mr Price said.

“The discussions were candid and professional with the US delegation reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words.”

Mr Price did not specify if any agreements were made.

Although, Taliban officials spoke to various media outlets after the talks, they too offered few details.

A previous statement from the Taliban’s leadership said the meeting “went well” and acknowledged that the United States would continue to provide humanitarian support to Afghanistan, but it would not formally recognise the Taliban.

In another media engagement, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said Afghanistan’s new leaders were committed to ensuring terrorism does not take root in Afghanistan again.

Those comments came just two days after the militant Islamic State (Khorasan) group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that left more than 100 people dead during noon prayer at a mosque in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, another State Department official described the US-Taliban meeting as the continuation of Washington’s “pragmatic engagement” with the Taliban on issues of vital national interest.

The US official, however, made it clear that “this meeting (was) not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy. We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions”.

The official said the US delegation included officials from the Department of State, USAID, and other government agencies who met senior Taliban representatives in Doha. He did not specify which agencies, but media reports from Doha claimed that the US delegation included intelligence officials.

“This meeting (was) a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban on issues of US vital national interest,” the State Department official said. “Our key priorities are the continued safe passage out of Afghanistan of US and other foreign nationals and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment (and) who seek to leave the country.”

The other key priority, the official said, was “holding the Taliban to its commitment not to allow terrorists to use Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States or its allies”.

The United States, he said, would use the talks to reaffirm that “we continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments” and “we will press the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and to form an inclusive government with broad support”.

The US official noted that Afghanistan “faced the prospect of a severe economic contraction and possible humanitarian crisis, and the US delegation pressed the Taliban to allow humanitarian agencies free access to areas of need”.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2021

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