Washington’s chief envoy to Afghanistan met Taliban leaders in Qatar as part of U.S. efforts to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table, a senior Afghan official said on Wednesday.
The talks between the Taliban and Marc Grossman came in late January, after he met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, the official said, asking to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Grossman, President Barack Obama’s chief envoy for war-torn Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, later briefed Karzai about his talks with Taliban representatives during a visit by the Afghan leader to Italy.
“I can confirm that Mr. Grossman met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar. When the president (Karzai) was in Rome, he came over to his residence and briefed him about his meetings with the Taliban,” the official said.
The U.S., which heads a 130,000-strong force fighting a Taliban insurgency against Karzai’s government, has made tentative moves towards talks with the hardline Islamists in Qatar, where they plan to open an office.
Karzai, rejected by the Taliban as a “puppet”, has said publicly that he supports the plan, but was widely reported to be concerned that he would be sidelined in the Taliban’s talks with the U.S.
Washington dispatched Grossman to Kabul last month to assure the Afghan president of a leading role once the talks get under way.
The official told AFP that during his visit to Kabul Grossman met Karzai twice and “a number of agreements were made over a number of issues concerning Taliban talks”.
He refused to give details but “our stance is unchanged: the president wants the talks to be Afghan-led and Afghan owned”, he said.