Afghan delegation to meet Taliban in Doha: government

An Afghan government delegation is going to Doha to make "initial contacts" with the Taliban, a senior official said Thursday,…

An Afghan government delegation is going to Doha to make “initial contacts” with the Taliban, a senior official said Thursday, days before the signing of a historic deal in Qatar to withdraw US troops.

The accord would see thousands of US troops withdrawn from Afghanistan after more than 18 years, in return for various security commitments from the Taliban and a pledge to hold talks with the Kabul government.

Representatives of the Kabul government will be conspicuously absent from Saturday’s signing ceremony, which as many as 30 nation are expected to attend.

But in the first sign of a potential opening towards intra-Afghan negotiations, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said the government would send a six-person delegation to Doha to meet the insurgents following a request from “the Taliban and our international partners”.

“It’s a group called (an) initial contact group”, he told AFP, adding that the delegation was “not a negotiating team and won’t be negotiating anything with the Taliban”.

“This team isn’t participating (in) the signing ceremony on Saturday,” he added.

In the run-up to the event, the Taliban, US and Afghan forces agreed to a partial week-long truce that entered its sixth day on Thursday.

While the truce does not amount to a full ceasefire, the number of Taliban attacks has fallen dramatically.

The situation remains fragile however, with the interior ministry reporting a policeman’s death due to a roadside bomb in northern Balkh province on Thursday.

Another person was killed and ten others were wounded in an explosion in Kabul the same day. The Taliban, which has vowed not to attack urban areas as part of the truce, immediately denied any involvement.

Islamic State jihadists later claimed responsibility for the attack, the SITE monitoring group said.

The presence of IS in Afghanistan has complicated negotiations between the United States and the Taliban.

While the Taliban want all American forces out, the Pentagon insists thousands must remain in Afghanistan to tackle IS and other jihadist groups.

The Afghan government said in November that its forces had largely defeated IS but the group still maintains a diminished presence in parts of eastern Afghanistan.