US to resume talks with Taliban next week

State Department says delegation will meet hardline movement in Qatar for two weeks of discussions

The US will resume talks with the Taliban next week in Qatar to address, among other issues, the fight against terrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

The delegation will be led by the US special representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, for the planned two weeks of discussions, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.

The two sides will discuss "vital national interests", which include counterterrorism operations against ISIS and Al Qaeda, humanitarian assistance, Afghanistan's devastated economy and safe passage for Americans and Afghans who worked for the US during the 20-year war.

Two weeks ago, Mr West met representatives of the hardline movement, which seized power in August as US forces completed their withdrawal, in Pakistan.

A first session between the two sides was held from October 9 to 10 in the Qatari capital of Doha, where US diplomats overseeing relations with Afghanistan moved to after the Taliban takeover.

On Friday, Mr West emphasised the conditions for the Taliban to receive US financial and diplomatic support. They include measures to fight terrorism, the formation of an inclusive government, respect for the rights of minorities, women and girls, as well as the provision of equal access to education and employment.

He said the US will continue to have dialogue with the Taliban and provide only humanitarian aid for now.

Amir Muttaqi, foreign minister of the Taliban government, which is not recognised by the international community, last week called on the US Congress in an open letter to release of Afghan assets frozen by Washington.

He said the biggest challenge facing Afghanistan was financial insecurity "and the roots of this concern lead back to the freezing of assets of our people by the American government".

Washington has seized about $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank, and the aid-dependent economy has effectively collapsed, with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports.

Since the Taliban took Kabul, they have been forced to adapt the movement from a guerrilla insurgency into a full civilian administration.

The Taliban this week formed a commission to purge "people of bad character" from their ranks to protect Afghanistan's reputation in the latest effort to form a functional government.

Their membership has grown over the past two years, particularly after it became apparent they would return to power in some form.

In an audio recording, Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani said: "We are learning that people of bad character had entered the [Taliban] ranks and had been giving a bad name to the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] and serving their vested interests.

"It is our humble wish that there should be a small number of people but they should be pure and sincere so that this movement should not be damaged.”

The authenticity of the recording was confirmed to Reuters by Taliban officials.

Reports on social media claimed that people identifying themselves as Taliban members have carried out a number of attacks on civilians and former members of the security forces of the ousted government since August, despite the Taliban leadership announcing a general amnesty. Taliban officials have repeatedly denied sanctioning these acts.

Updated: November 24th 2021, 4:03 PM