Afghanistan government "preparing for direct talks" with the Taliban "in a European country," state minister for peace affairs Abdul Salam Rahimi says.
Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could begin within the next two weeks, an Afghan official said on Saturday, marking a potentially crucial step in efforts to end the war.
The Taliban has so far steadfastly refused to speak to the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which it sees as illegitimate, except for at a recent summit where Ghani officials attended in a "personal capacity."
"We are preparing for direct talks," said Abdul Salam Rahimi, the state minister for peace affairs, noting that the government would be represented by a 15-member delegation.
"We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country."
This is major if confirmed by Taliban also that they have agreed to it.— Mujib Mashal (@MujMash) July 27, 2019
If Taliban come out rejecting it, then we have come to quite a mess and questions will be raised on why government felt like announcing it before Taliban showed agreement. https://t.co/PjwwQ22Vcg
Venue of talks
He did not specify where the summit might take place.
Germany played a crucial role in talks in an "intra-Afghan dialogue" in Doha earlier this month, but Norway has also been involved in peace efforts.
The announcement comes as a Taliban delegation led by its co-founder and deputy head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar tours Indonesia.
"During this trip, talks will be held on good political ties between the two countries, peace and importance of future cooperation with Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Zabihulllah Mujahid said.
#Report— Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م ) (@Zabehulah_M33) July 27, 2019
Respected Mullah Baradar Akhund & delegation have been invited for dinner by the Vice President of #Indonesia - Jusuf Kalla.
Senior government officials including Indonesian Foreign Minister will also partake in the dinner. https://t.co/zomx4apxLO
The Taliban did not immediately comment on Rahimi's remarks, but the apparent development comes as US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad continues a visit to Kabul, where he has spent several days meeting with Ghani and US officials.
He is expected to fly to Doha at some point next week for what would be the eighth round of direct US-Taliban talks.
The two foes claim they are making progress in reaching a deal that would end America's nearly 18-year military involvement in Afghanistan.
Any deal, however, requires the Taliban to talk to Kabul.