Taliban deny possible talks with Afghans in Saudi Arabia

Taliban fighters pictured after joining Afghan government forces for a ceremony in Ghazni province on January 16.

Story highlights

  • Taliban spokesman says any negotiations must be preceded by a trust-building stage
  • He calls the report of talks with Afghan representatives in Saudi Arabia "baseless and unconfirmed"

A spokesman for the Taliban denied on Wednesday a weekend report that Taliban representatives may meet with officials representing the government of President Hamid Karzai in Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks.

"There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is a respectful country for us as it is the place for the house of God and many more Islamic sacred, but the rumor which has recently been spread by media that the Taliban delegation would meet with Karzai administration¹s representatives in the Saudi Arabia is completely incorrect," said spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.

He added that the Taliban are working to create an understanding with the international community, but negotiations have not begun. That's because a trust-building stage, which must come before any negotiations, has not been completed, he said.

He called the reports "baseless and unconfirmed."

The statement came several days after a senior Afghan official said that the Afghan government was hoping to hold talks with Taliban representatives in Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks.

The senior official, speaking anonymously as he was discussing sensitive diplomatic issues, said the plans for a meeting between insurgents and Afghan officials were at such an early stage that it was not clear who would attend or when any talks would be held.

"The principle is that, although there is now an agreement -- almost -- to set up an office in Doha (Qatar), that doesn't necessarily mean that all conversations will take place in Doha," the official said. "We will talk to the same or different individuals (from the insurgency) in a different location. Obviously, Saudi Arabia has been supportive of the recent agenda and has hosted talks in the past. It is likely that we are heading there in the future for meetings."

He said the dates and participants were still being worked out and insisted that any Saudi discussions would feed into the Qatar process. This is "absolutely not in opposition to the Qatar process," he added, calling the talks in that Gulf state "a very substantive step forward."

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While the Afghan official was unable to say whether the Americans would attend any talks held in Saudi Arabia, he insisted, "The U.S. is supportive of the idea. It is far too early to discuss any specifics about this."

The creation of a parallel process to the Qatar talks risks frustrating American efforts to bring the Taliban and Afghan officials together. The current "talks about talks" in Doha are the product of months of U.S. efforts to reach out to the insurgency, which came to sudden fruition last month when the Taliban announced that they would support opening an office in their name in Qatar.

Officials in President Hamid Karzai's government privately voiced frustration at being excluded from the early stages of this process, but agreed to support it last week.

The official said the Qatar process could move forward once the Qataris send a delegation to Kabul to discuss the next steps, adding that he hoped that would be soon. He said that, as of last weekend, there were no Afghan government officials in Qatar to support any discussions.

"To fully assume ownership of the Qatar process is important for us," the official added. "We will work in the weeks ahead" to do that.

He said the Americans needed a clear statement from the insurgents, distancing themselves from terrorism, for their role in the Qatar process to move forward and for an office to be established.

"We know and are aware the are Taliban representatives in Doha," he said. "There are channels in fact, and we are aware of the presence. What's not yet established is the office."

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