Afghan-Taliban talks could happen within two weeks: minister

Kabul (AFP) –


Direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban could begin within the next two weeks, an Afghan official said Saturday, marking a potentially crucial step in efforts to end the war.

The Taliban have so far steadfastly refused to speak to the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see 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."

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 Taliban did not immediately comment, 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 an 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.