UNITED STATES: Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met in secret to discuss easing tension with the outside world, suggesting a new openness on the part of the Afghan government to talk about methods to break their isolation, as per reports. This is the first meeting the Taliban leader has had with a foreign leader.
According to reports, Joe Biden’s administration is coordinating with Sheikh Mohammed and Haibatullah on issues such as communication with the Taliban and lifting restrictions on women working and enrolling their daughters in school. Qatar has denounced Taliban restrictions on women while pushing international collaboration with Kabul. Thus this is a diplomatic win for them.
The United States has taken the lead in pressing the Taliban to lift restrictions on women’s employment, including for U.N. organisations and humanitarian organisations. The White House refused to comment on the negotiations, and requests for a response were not answered by the State Department or the Qatari embassy in Washington. The Taliban did not react quickly to a request for comment.
Humanitarian aid has been hindered by the Taliban’s bans on women working and going to school, which has caused no nation to recognise their rule since 2021. A U.N. study found that the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls may constitute a crime against humanity. Haibatullah, an extreme Islamist, has not shown any inclination to budge from his rules.
Sheikh Mohammed and Haibatullah discussed the need to end restrictions on women’s access to higher education and the workforce. Since January, the Taliban administration has promised detailed guidelines allowing aid organisations to work with female staff. They also added that to reopen secondary schools, conditions must be met, including creating an Islamic curriculum.
As per reports, they also discussed the Taliban’s efforts to combat terrorism, which is likely code for Kabul’s efforts to destroy an Islamic State offshoot. However, the U.S. accused the Taliban of harbouring members of al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, but they dispute this.
The Taliban prime minister, Mullah Hassan Akhund, and Sheikh Mohammed met in public in Kandahar on the same day. Sheikh Mohammed is also the foreign minister of Qatar and the director of intelligence for Qatar.
Haibatullah has been the Taliban’s top religious, political, and military commander since 2016, leading the group to triumph over the Kabul government. Qatar also aided the militants in negotiations with the U.S., leading to the 2020 agreement for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international force.
Qatar has long lobbied for the adoption of a “roadmap” defining the steps the Taliban must take to receive recognition, arguing that isolating Afghanistan could undermine regional security. There is an open embassy in Kabul representing American interests.