Afghan Taliban say will continue talks with U.S. peace envoy

Taliban leaders will continue to have discussions with the newly appointed U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, the group said on Saturday, a move that could accelerate diplomatic engagement between the warring sides.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat, met Taliban leaders in Qatar on Friday in an effort to find a way to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

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“Both sides spoke (about) an end to the occupation and a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue … Both sides agreed to continue meeting in the future,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Saturday and briefed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about his 10-day tour of four countries, which ended with the meeting with leaders of the hardline Islamist militant group.

According to Taliban sources, the two sides arrived with tough conditions.

“It was an introductory meeting in which an eight-member U.S. delegation held a detailed meeting with members of our political office,” said a senior Taliban member.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, who is the head of Taliban’s Qatar office, led the discussions, he said.

Another senior member of the Taliban said Khalilzad had asked the Taliban leadership, based in the Qatari capital Doha, to declare a ceasefire in Afghanistan for six months, starting before the Oct.20 parliamentary polls.

“Both sides discussed prospects for peace, and the U.S presence in Afghanistan,” said another Taliban official, requesting anonymity.

In exchange, the Taliban want the Afghan government to release fighters from jails across the country and the swift removal of foreign forces fighting alongside Afghan troops.

A Taliban source said the U.S. delegation proposed forming different committees to handle the release of prisoners.

“Neither side agreed to accept the other’s demands immediately, but they agreed to meet again and find a solution to the conflict,” he said.

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