Qatar prime minister, Taliban leader hold secret talks: Report

Photo: Reuters

The Qatari prime minister held secret talks with the Taliban supreme leader this month on resolving tension with the international community, Reuters reported, quoting a source briefed on the meeting.

The May 12 meeting in the southern city of Kandahar between Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Hibatullah Akhunzada is the first the Taliban leader is known to have held with a foreign leader.

US President Joe Biden’s administration was briefed on the talks and is “coordinating on all issues discussed” by the pair, including furthering dialogue with the Taliban, said the source as quoted by Reuters.

According to the Reuters report, the source who spoke on condition of anonymity said other issues Sheikh Mohammed raised with Hibatullah included the need to end Taliban bans on girls’ education and women’s employment.

The meeting represents a diplomatic success for Qatar, which has criticized Taliban restrictions on women while using long-standing ties with the Islamist movement to push for deeper engagement with Kabul by the international community.

The United States has led demands for the Taliban to end the bans on girls’ schooling and women working, including for UN agencies and humanitarian groups, to restore their freedom of movement and bring Afghans from outside Taliban ranks into government.

The source’s comments suggested that Washington supported elevating what have been unproductive lower-level talks in the hope of a breakthrough that could end the world’s only bans of their kind and ease dire humanitarian and financial crises that have left tens of millions of Afghans hungry and jobless, Reuters reported.

Reuters report says that the White House declined to comment on the talks. The State Department and the Qatar embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Education, employment bans

Taliban has closed secondary schools for girls over the past nearly two years. It has also banned women from attending universities and working in non-governmental organizations in Afghansitan.

The treatment by the Taliban of women and girls could amount to a crime against humanity, according to a UN report presented in March at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Taliban say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan customs.

Hibatullah, a hardline Islamist, has shown little willingness to compromise on his edicts.

His meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, however, suggests that he is open to exploring avenues for ending Afghanistan’s isolation and boosting relief programs as the country sinks into hunger and poverty, Reuters reported.

“It was a very positive meeting,” said the source. Hibatullah was “very interested” in continuing a dialogue with the international community.

Humanitarian crisis

Quoting the source, Reuters reported that the Qatari prime minister and the Taliban leader also discussed efforts to remedy Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations says nearly three-quarters of Afghanistan’s 40 million people need help and it has warned that funding is drying up.

Sheikh Mohammed, the source said, raised with Hibatullah the “continued efforts on the ground” by the Taliban on counterterrorism, an apparent reference to Kabul’s drive to crush an Islamic State affiliate, Reuters reported.

While in Kandahar, Qatari prime minister met with Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, Taliban’s acting chief minister.

The two sides did not disclose the Qatari prime minister’s meeting with Akhundzada.