Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could begin within the next two weeks, an Afghan official said Saturday, marking a potentially crucial step in efforts to end the war.
“We are preparing for direct talks. The government will be represented by a 15-member delegation,” said Abdul Salam Rahimi, the state minister for peace affairs.
“We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country.”
The Taliban have so far refused to speak to the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate, except for at a recent summit where Ghani officials attended in a “personal capacity”.
He did not specify where the summit might take place, but diplomatic sources told AFP the talks were scheduled to begin in Oslo on August 7. The sources said the international community and the Afghan government were still awaiting word from the Taliban.
Ghani and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed in a telephone call Wednesday that “now is the time to accelerate efforts to reach a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan”, according to a joint statement.
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading a push to forge a peace deal with the Taliban, has spent the past several days in Kabul, where he met with Ghani and US officials.
He is expected to fly to Doha next week for what would be an eighth round of direct US-Taliban talks. The two foes claim progress in reaching a deal that would end America’s nearly 18-year military involvement in Afghanistan.
Washington has said it wants to see a deal inked by September 1, but any deal requires the Taliban to talk to Kabul. The apparent development comes after Taliban negotiators sat with Afghan representatives at a so-called intra-Afghan dialogue brokered by Germany in Doha this month. The Afghan stakeholders had agreed to attend in a “personal capacity” so the Taliban can continue to insist it is not talking directly to the Kabul administration.