Qatar PM meets IE chief for secret talks

KABUL (Reuters): The Qatari prime minister held secret talks with the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate this month on resolving tension with the international community, a source briefed on the meeting said, signaling a new willingness by Afghanistan’s rulers to discuss ways to end their isolation.
The May 12 meeting in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar between Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhunzada is the first the reclusive Islamic Emirate’s chief is known to have held with a foreign leader.
US President Joe Biden’s administration was briefed on the talks and is “coordinating on all issues discussed” by the pair, including furthering dialogue with the Islamic Emirate, said the source.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said other issues Sheikh Mohammed raised with Hibatullah included the need to end an Islamic Emirate bans on girls’ education and women’s employment.
The meeting represents a diplomatic success for Qatar, which has criticized Islamic Emirate’s restrictions on women while using long-standing ties with the Islamist movement to push for deeper engagement with Kabul by the international community.
The United States has led demands for the Afghan interim government to end the bans on girls’ schooling and women working, including for UN agencies and humanitarian groups, to restore their freedom of movement and bring Afghans from outside Taliban ranks into government.
The source’s comments suggested that Washington supported elevating what have been unproductive lower-level talks in the hope of a breakthrough that could end the world’s only bans of their kind and ease dire humanitarian and financial crises that have left tens of millions of Afghans hungry and jobless.
The White House declined to comment on the talks. The State Department and the Qatar embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
The Islamic Emirate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.