KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. diplomats held talks with Taliban delegates on Monday in the United Arab Emirates to discuss ways to end the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesman and Afghan government officials said.
Saudi, Pakistani and UAE officials were also participating in the one-day meeting, one of several held between U.S. diplomats and representatives of the Afghan insurgent group in recent months, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the UAE were the only nations that recognized the Taliban’s radical Islamist government when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until its ouster in late 2001.
There was no official confirmation from the presidential palace in Kabul whether any government official would participate in the meeting. But the country’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, said in a tweet that he met Sunday in the UAE with officials from the three countries and the United States.
Mohib said he discussed President Ashraf Ghani’s road map for peace, which allows Taliban representatives to take part in the political process and run for office. The plan also raises the prospect of constitutional changes while maintaining Afghanistan’s achievements since the militants were driven from power in Kabul by Afghan resistance forces and U.S. airstrikes.
Mohib said he had discussed the “direct engagement of the Afghan government with the Taliban for an intra-Afghan dialogue.”
The Taliban has repeatedly refused to deal directly with Ghani’s government, which the group considers a U.S. puppet that is racked by internal divisions and regarded as inefficient.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. new envoy for Afghanistan, will lead the talks.
He has traveled to the region and spoken with a number of diplomats and leaders since he was appointed as a special envoy by President Donald Trump in September.
The Afghan-born diplomat recently suggested the formation of an interim government instead of holding a presidential election as scheduled in April. The aim would be to allow the peace process to succeed and then hold the vote with Taliban’s participation.
But members of Ghani’s administration have categorically rejected the idea, insisting on going ahead with the election in April despite widely mismanaged parliamentary polls in October that were held after more than three years of delay.
Ghani is set to run for office and has picked an advisory board on peace while Khalilzad pushes the U.S.-led efforts.
Some factional leaders, including his archrival for the presidency, former national security adviser Hanif Atmar, consider Ghani’s move a political maneuver aimed at bolstering his reelection bid. Some members of the advisory board have said they will not participate, as they were selected without even being informed.
The main stumbling blocks in past rounds of talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives have been conditions of the two sides on how to end the war.
The Taliban has insisted on a pullout date for U.S.-led troops before any talks with the Kabul government and has demanded that Washington not oppose the establishment of an Islamist government.
U.S. officials have been pushing to keep some troops and at least a couple of bases in the country.