Taliban, US hold first face-to-face talks since withdrawal

The Taliban and the US have met for the first time since America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The talks, which lasted around eight hours, were held in Doha, Qatar. They are reported to have touched on everything from military cooperation to regional issues like Pakistan and India.

The two sides are reported to have disagreed on the release of captured militants held by either side, with Taliban negotiators insisting that five senior leaders should be freed in exchange for the US soldier Bowe Bergdahl. It is not clear whether all five prisoners will be released. The Washington Post reports that one will stay until a credible peace process has been established.

The talks mark the first time representatives from the Taliban and US have met to discuss a possible peace process since Afghan President Hamid Karzai called off negotiations last year.

The US-made clear that they are ready with the Taliban to start political talks but with the precondition that both sides will eventually arrive at a final agreement.

A senior source told AFP news agency that the meeting had been overseen by an unnamed Qatari official. He said it was not clear whether the Taliban were represented by their political or military representatives.

According to reports, Pakistan was not informed about the talks in advance. The development has come as a surprise to many, especially since Islamabad’s recently improved relations with Kabul.

The meeting also sparked a flurry of Twitter activity, with many expressing their opinions on the latest development:

I’m not sure what to think of the Doha talks. We’ve seen this before and there’s still no clear roadmap, said Sami Yousafzai an Afghan journalist and analyst.

Javid Ahmad, Senior Advisor for Asia at the United States Institute of Peace, said

Regarding the Qatar meeting, it is a step in the right direction. Now-real work begins to build on today’s momentum. But this is not an alternative to US-led Afghan reconciliation efforts going forward

The Taliban delegation has been headed by Agha Jan Mutassim, a member of the group’s political commission, a Reuters witness said. He was accompanied by Tayyab Agha, head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar. The delegation is expected to leave Doha after the talks finish sometime next week, Mutassim told reporters at a press conference held on Wednesday.