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Afghan delegation to meet with Taliban in Qatar: officials

KABUL:  An Afghan delegation is heading to Qatar for “open discussions” with representatives of Taliban insurgents over the next few days aimed at ending Afghanistan’s long war, an official said on Friday.

The meeting is intended as a step towards opening formal talks to ending the war, but it was not clear on Friday whether it had been approved by the Taliban’s supreme leader, who has not been seen in public for years.

Pakistan’s army chief told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in February that senior figures in the Taliban were open to direct talks with Kabul to end the war, but until now there had been little sign of progress.

The Taliban and their militant allies have if anything shown more desire to fight than to talk. Last week, Taliban fighters entered the outer districts of a northerly provincial capital, Kunduz.

The 20-member Afghan delegation will attend preliminary talks in Qatar on Sunday and Monday, Attaullah Ludin, deputy chief of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, told Reuters.

“The open discussions are based on peace in Afghanistan. There will be representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and some other organisations,” Ludin said.

He said there would be two representatives of Hizb-i-Islami, another militant group fighting Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government that also has a political wing.

Few other details were immediately available. Previous efforts to open channels of communication, including the establishment of a political office in Qatar in 2013 as part of a U.S.-sponsored push to promote talks, have led nowhere.

A senior Taliban official in Qatar confirmed that a meeting was set for the coming days with Afghan figures, as well as some from Pakistan and other countries.

The Taliban official also said that Hizb-i-Islami figures would participate. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to reveal the talks.

“It’s top secret so far,” he said.

He added that the aim of the meeting was “to sit in front of each other and listen to each other’s point of view”.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry could not immediately be reached for comment. – Reuters

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