The Taliban said Monday that its delegates had no plans to meet with members of the Kabul government, which it insists is just a puppet of the Americans and too divided internally to negotiate effectively.
The government team is led by President Ashraf Ghani’s chief of staff, Abdul Salam Rahimi. According to spokesman Harun Chakhansoori, it will “begin proximity dialogue with the Taliban delegation” to prepare for a “face-to-face meeting between the two sides.”
He added that the government delegation will be in the UAE for some days to come.
During Monday’s talks, the Taliban insisted on the pullout of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan, according to a statement by Mujahid.
“Talks revolved around the withdrawal of occupation forces from Afghanistan, ending the oppression being carried out by the United States and her allies,” it said.
Taliban officials told the Reuters news agency that also under discussion was a six-month cease-fire, as well as naming a Taliban representative to a future caretaker government.
The UAE talks come after at least a couple rounds of meetings between Taliban delegates and U.S. diplomats in Qatar, where a group of Taliban negotiators has lived for years.
The meeting in UAE is said to be more inclusive because it involves other nations and at least two new Taliban negotiators who have apparently traveled from Pakistan.
The Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since its fall from power in 2001. Casualties from the war are soaring among government troops, Taliban fighters and civilians as the warring sides step their attacks.
Amid a stalemate on the battlefield and as ordinary Americans are questioning the need for a U.S. troop presence after 17 years of war, President Trump assigned Khalilzad in September to resume efforts to engage with the Taliban.
Ghani plans to run for reelection in April, and his government has vehemently rejected a reported proposal that he delay the presidential election and instead form an interim government while the talks with the Taliban continue, then later hold a vote with Taliban participation.
The State Department denies that Khalilzad has made any such proposal.
“At no time has Special Representative Khalilzad ever suggested the formation of an interim government in lieu of elections,” State Department spokeswoman Heidi Hattenbach said. “The timing of Afghan elections is for Afghans alone to decide.”
Briefing members of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said the possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now.