US, Taliban deny peace talks planned in Qatar

Kandahar: The US and the Taliban central spokesman today denied plans to hold peace talks in Qatar, contradicting earlier claims by militant leaders that contacts would resume in the Gulf state within weeks.

The denials came after multiple commanders said five former members of the Taliban supreme council would soon restart contacts with US officials in Qatar to try to get peace talks on track after more than 13 years of war in Afghanistan.

"The United States currently has no meetings with the Taliban scheduled in Doha," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. The Taliban's central command also sought to distance itself from
the announcement, saying its conditions for full-blown talks were a long way from being met.

"We do not have any plans for negotiations with anyone in Qatar. Regarding the negotiations, there is no new change in the policy of Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

There have been several attempts at starting dialogue in recent years between the Taliban, Kabul and the United States -- the Afghan government's chief supporter -- but with little success.

The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as the first move towards a possible peace deal, but it shut a month later after enraging the then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling it as the unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.

The election last year of President Ashraf Ghani, who pledged to make peace talks a priority, as well as supportive signals from Pakistan, which has long held significant influence with the Taliban, has boosted hopes for possible dialogue.

"Five former members of the supreme council of the Afghan Taliban, headed by Tayyab Agha, will hold talks with the US," a senior Taliban cadre based in Pakistan had earlier told AFP. A senior member of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's governing council, also told AFP talks would be held, saying Karzai's departure as president had helped clear the way.

"This time the Taliban will speak to Americans face to face in Qatar, this is what Karzai was afraid of, he did not want Americans to represent the Afghan government," the commander told AFP. The sources suggested that the talks were likely to begin within weeks.

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