Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could begin within the next two weeks, an Afghan official said Saturday. This will be a potentially crucial step in efforts to end the war as Taliban have so far refused to speak to the government of President Ashraf Ghani. “We are preparing for direct talks,” said Abdul Salam Rahimi, the state minister for peace affairs, noting that the government would be represented by a 15-member delegation.
“We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country.” He did not specify where the summit might take place.
Germany played a crucial role in talks in an “intra-Afghan dialogue” in Doha earlier this month, but Norway has also been involved in peace efforts.
The Taliban did not immediately comment, but the apparent development comes as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad continues a visit to Kabul, where he has spent several days meeting with Ghani and US officials.
The United States began bombing Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, to root out al-Qaida fighters harbored by the Taliban. Now, more than 18 years later, preventing Afghanistan from being a launching pad for more attacks on America is at the heart of ongoing US talks with the Taliban.
The conflict in Afghanistan has cost more than 2,300 American lives and hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars.
The Taliban control roughly half the country, although not the cities. About 14,000 U.S. troops plus other NATO-led forces are still there.
Senior intelligence officials have warned that a withdrawal could return Afghanistan to a time when the Taliban ruled a country that was an al-Qaida stronghold.
A U.N. Security Council report in April 2018 said al-Qaida was “closely allied with and embedded within the Taliban.”
The report said the Taliban, which have no history of conducting attacks outside Afghanistan, provide operating space for about 20 terrorist groups with thousands of fighters.