Progress toward peace talks unclear as Taliban, Afghan figures meet
Taliban representatives met with Afghan political figures for a second day on Sunday, but it was unclear if the dialogue hosted by Qatar moved any closer to long-awaited formal negotiations to end Afghanistan's devastating war, Reuters reported.
Participants in the meeting in Al-Khor, a seaside town north of Doha, emerged from the venue smiling and laughing on Sunday, but they refused to talk to reporters.
One Afghan who was part of the talks said that the Taliban and several other Afghan political movements were participating and all sides had agreed not to make any statements until a common statement had been agreed upon.
The Qatar meeting was be the first sign of life in weeks for the hoped-for peace process to end the more than 13-year-old war between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
Several previous initiatives have failed over the years to end the war that has killed tens of thousands of Afghans since the U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban's hard-line Islamist regime from power in 2001.
The informal talks came even as fighting in Afghanistan escalated after the withdrawal of most U.S. and allied troops.
The Taliban recently launched a fierce new offensive in northern Afghanistan that brought its fighters to the outskirts of Kunduz city, a provincial capital.
Afghan police and army soldiers have launched a counter-offensive in Kunduz, but the Taliban advance has proved a severe test of the NATO-trained Afghan security forces.
Pakistan, which recently told the Afghan government that some Taliban leaders were open to talks, had no comment on whether it had representatives at the Qatar meetings but expressed approval.
"Pakistan fully supports peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban in Qatar," said Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. "Peace in Afghanistan is imperative for peace in the region."
The Afghan government has made no official statement on the meetings, though a member of the country's High Peace Council confirmed a delegation would attend meetings in Qatar with the Taliban.
The Qatar meetings are being held behind closed doors, and there has been confusion over their nature.
The Taliban's official spokesman has denied any peace talks, saying representatives were only attending a world affairs forum organized by Pugwash Council, a global organization that promotes conflict resolution.
However, Qatar's foreign ministry later announced it was holding "open discussions" involving the Taliban and Afghan figures aiming to bring reconciliation. It was not immediately clear if the two events were one and the same.