ISLAMABAD – The Taliban on Saturday banned joining the United States from forming rebel groups in Afghanistan, setting an unprecedented stand on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between former enemies since the United States left the country in August.
Taliban officials and US officials are meeting this week in Dhaha, Qatar’s capital. Officials from both sides said the issues included control of extremist groups and the removal of foreign nationals by Afghans from the country. The Taliban showed a change in exit.
However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press that there would be no partnership with Washington in having an active Islamic State group in Afghanistan. IS has taken responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including a suicide bombing on Friday that killed 46 Muslims and wounded several while worshiping in a mosque north of the city of Kunduz.
“We can take Daesh independently,” Shaheen said, when asked if the Taliban would work with the US to establish Islamic State ties. He used the Arabic expression for IS.
IS has carried out a relentless attack on the Shiites in the country since coming out of eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as a terrorist group that threatens the United States with its ability to attack American targets.
The weekend meetings in Dhaha are the first since the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in late August, marking 20 years of military presence when the Taliban invaded the country. The US has made it clear that the talks are not the first to be noticed.
The talks also come on two days of intense talks between Pakistani officials and Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Islamabad over Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have urged the US to start with Afghanistan’s new rulers and invest billions of dollars in global currency to prevent further economic collapse.
Pakistan also had a message for the Taliban, urging them to be more united and obedient to human rights and minority ethnic and religious groups.
Later on Saturday, Doha-based Al-Jazeera English reported that talks had begun. The report quoted Ameer Khan Muttaqi, a foreign minister appointed to the Taliban in Afghanistan, as saying that the Taliban had asked the US to lift its embargo on Afghan banks.
There was no immediate word from Washington on the conversation.
Following Friday’s attack, Afghan Shiite clerics attacked the Taliban, demanding further protection from their places of worship. The IS organization shared the burden and showed up in the bombing as a Ugandan Muslim. The statement said the attacks were aimed at Shiites and Taliban over their desire to oust the Uyghurs to meet demands from China. It has been the worst attack since US and NATO forces left Afghanistan on August 30.
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Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could be a sign of more violence. Most of the Uyghur rebels belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has found refuge in the Pakistani-Afghanistan border areas for decades.
“If it (IS) says it is true, China’s concern about terrorism in (Afghanistan) – which the Taliban claims to accept – will increase,” he tweeted following the attack.
Meanwhile, Taliban on Saturday launched Afghan buses who fled from rebels in a coup in August and were living in tents in Kabul park back to their homes in the north of the country, where the threat from IS is increasing following the Kunduz attack.
A senior Taliban refugee official, Mohammed Arsa Kharoti, said there were 1.3 million Afghans who had fled their homes since the previous wars and that the Taliban lacked the funds to plan for repatriation to all. He said the Taliban had planned for the return of 1,500 families who had left their homes so far.
Shokria Khanm, who spent several weeks in a tent in the park and waited Saturday to board a Taliban-planned bus back home to Kunduz, said he did not care about the IS threat in the northern region.
“Right now we have four walls,” he said but added that he was worried about the future after fighting between Taliban and Afghan government forces destroyed his home.
“Winter is on its way. There is no wood. We need water and food,” he said.
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During the Doha talks, US officials will seek to seize the Taliban’s commitment to allowing Americans and other foreigners to leave Afghanistan, as well as Afghans who have previously served in the US military or government and other Afghan allies, the US official said. The official said he did not want to be identified because the official did not have permission to comment in writing about the meetings.
Leaders in Biden have raised questions and complaints about the slow-moving US migration from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US occupation.
Associated Press correspondents Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Samya Kullab in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.