Taliban's political stature rises with talks in Uzbekistan

ASSOCIATED PRESS
ISLAMABAD
Published

In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of increasing Taliban political clout in the region, the head of the insurgents' political office led a delegation to Uzbekistan to meet senior Foreign Ministry officials there, Uzbek and Taliban officials said.

Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended on Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov as well as the country's special representative to Afghanistan Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in March to broker peace in Afghanistan.

Uzbek's Foreign Affairs Ministry website offered a terse announcement on the visit, saying "the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan."

Still, the meetings are significant, coming as the Taliban are ramping up pressure on Afghan security forces with relentless and deadly attacks. Washington has held preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan's protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from Russia as well as Uzbekistan, which view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Daesh terrorist group in Afghanistan. The United States has accused Moscow of giving weapons to the Taliban.

On Sunday, Ehsanullah Taheri, the spokesman of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, a wide-encompassing body tasked with finding a path to peace with the government's armed opponents, said Uzbek officials had the Afghan government's approval for the meeting.

"Afghan government welcomes any effort regarding the Afghan peace process, especially those attempts which can lead us to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process," said Taheri.

Still, there was no indication from either side that progress toward substantive talks between the Taliban and the government was made.

For Uzbekistan, the Daesh presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the architect of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by Daesh in Afghanistan.

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