Members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar launched two days of discussion with an Afghan delegation Saturday as momentum grows for the start of a formal peace process.
The militant group emphasised its hardline stance on talks aimed at ending their 14-year insurgency, ruling out negotiations until their preconditions were met.
“Before any official talks, we want names of our mujahideen to be removed from UN and US blacklists and all bounties on their heads be cancelled,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, listing the group’s demands at the Qatar conference.
“We also want our political office in Doha to be officially re-opened.”
The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as a first move towards a possible peace deal. But it shut a month later after enraging the then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling itself as the unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.
Afghan government officials are not attending the meeting in the Gulf emirate, which is organised by Pugwash Conferences, an international group that promotes conflict resolution.
But it marks a rare direct interaction between the Taliban and Afghan lawmakers and civil society members amid an international push to revive talks.
The meeting comes after delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in Kabul last Monday for a second round of talks seeking a negotiated end to the insurgency.
The first round of the so-called “roadmap” talks was held in Islamabad earlier this month in a bid to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group.
Taliban representatives were notably absent in both rounds and analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
Despite the push to restart talks, the Taliban have ramped up violence across Afghanistan.
Seven employees of popular Afghan TV channel TOLO were killed on Wednesday when a Taliban car bomber rammed into their minibus in Kabul, just months after the militants declared the network a legitimate “military target”.
At least 25 other people were wounded in the bombing near the Russian embassy in downtown Kabul, in the first direct assault on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.