The Taliban are preparing to send a delegation for talks with US officials about ending the conflict in Afghanistan and the meeting could address a possible prisoner swap, two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told TOLO News that Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-person delegation and the subjects to be discussed.
They said the Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the US showed “seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners”.
“This meeting will determine the future talks and we would see if the US is serious and sincere in negotiation,” one of the officials involved told the news channel.
“We would hand over a list of prisoners languishing in jails across Afghanistan. If they set free our prisoners, then we would meet again for another great cause,” he said.
If confirmed, the meeting would follow an earlier round of talks in Doha in July where Taliban officials met Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the US State Department.
According to officials, the Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group’s Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the report said.
However, they said the high command was planning to replace Stanakzai, who has been serving as interim head, with a new permanent head of the Qatar office.
Hopes that peace talks will end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan have stuttered in recent months, following a failure to agree to a repeat of the unprecedented Eid ceasefire in June which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.
Over the past year, the US has stepped up airstrikes against the Taliban and boosted training for Afghan forces. However, US officials say the goal was to reach a negotiated, Afghan-led settlement to end the war.
On the Taliban side, the assault on the strategic city of Ghazni last month that killed hundreds of soldiers, police and civilians underlined the insurgents’ determination to increase pressure on the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of US-led troops, have maintained their refusal to negotiate directly with the internationally-recognized Afghan government and say they will only talk to the US.
As the push for talks picked up following the Eid ceasefire in June, the US agreed to participate directly and has appointed former US Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to reinforce the effort.