September 29, 2018
A Taliban spokesman has rejected reports that the group’s representatives have met an Afghan government delegation this week in Saudi Arabia, after sources said a meeting was held to discuss security issues ahead of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Taliban group, released a short statement denying the meeting less than a month before voters are scheduled to go to the polls to elect a new Afghan parliament.
The news came amid fears of Taliban attacks on polling stations and campaign rallies.
The denial of the meeting is perceived as a blow to Riyadh as it sought a mediation role between the Taliban and Kabul to help the United States continue its presence in Afghanistan.
Previous reports by Reuters said representatives from the militant group had met an Afghan government delegation in Saudi Arabia and agreed on reinforcing security during the upcoming elections and also on a limited prisoner release.
“They requested us to help them conduct peaceful elections,” the news agency reported, quoting what it called an anonymous Taliban official.
The Taliban have generally insisted on negotiating only with the United States, but plans for another meeting with American officials broke down over US demands for a three-month ceasefire.
The United States has reportedly agreed to participate directly and has appointed former US ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad as the special envoy.
The Taliban say they will not enter talks unless US troops leave the country and have pledged to make Afghanistan “another graveyard” for foreign forces.
Saudi Arabia has been pressuring the militants to stop attacking US troops. The kingdom was one of the only two countries that had officially recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 following a US-led invasion. That war, which continues to this day, has failed to bring stability to the country despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces.
The United Nations said in a recent statement that blasts, attacks and clashes between militants and Afghan forces killed over 1,600 civilians in the first six months of the year, the highest number in the past decade.
Since late last year, the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, which has already lost all its urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, has also taken advantage of the chaos in Afghanistan and established a foothold in the country’s eastern and northern regions.
Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai has accused the US of propping up Daesh and using it as a “tool” for its own agenda in the country.