UK officials try to ‘find common ground’ in meeting with senior Taliban leaders

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The UK is right to seek common ground with the Taliban, a UK official who met the group in Kabul has said.

Dr Martin Longden, charge d’affaires of the UK Mission to Afghanistan in Doha, travelled to Afghanistan with the Prime Minister’s high representative for Afghan transition, Sir Simon Gass, to hold talks with senior members of the regime, nearly eight weeks after the western-backed Government of the country fell.

They used their meeting in part to try to prevent the country from becoming “an incubator for terrorism”, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.

The UK Government said the officials met foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and deputy prime ministers Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund and Abdul-Salam Hanafi, among others.

Posting on Twitter on Tuesday, Dr Longden said they had “serious and substantial discussions with the Taliban leadership”.

He said: “It’s early days and, unsurprisingly, there are points of difference between us.

“But such difficult challenges lie ahead for Afghanistan (and beyond), it’s right to test if we can engage pragmatically and find common ground – in the interests of both the UK and Afghan peoples.”

Earlier on Tuesday, a UK Government spokesman said: “Sir Simon and Dr Longden discussed how the UK could help Afghanistan to address the humanitarian crisis, the importance of preventing the country from becoming an incubator for terrorism, and the need for continued safe passage for those who want to leave the country.

“They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls.

“The Government continues to do all it can to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave and is committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan.”

Former British solider Ben Slater, who was arrested by the Taliban while trying to evacuate hundreds of Afghans from the country, is also understood to have been released and left the country with the UK delegation.

A statement posted on Twitter which appeared to be from a Taliban foreign affairs spokesman said: “The meeting focused on detailed discussions about reviving diplomatic relations between both countries, assurance of security by IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) for all citizens entering legally, and humanitarian assistance by UK for the Afghans.”

Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the UK delegation had said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “seeking to build relations with IEA while taking into account prevailing circumstances”, while the Afghan side said the UK “must take positive steps regarding relations and cooperation, and begin a new chapter of constructive relations”.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
An Afghan solidarity rally in Trafalgar Square, London (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “We expect others to also not work towards weakening our government.”

The Taliban has been in control in Afghanistan since the fall of the western-backed government in August.

It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the UK military withdrawal from Afghanistan showed the connection of global events, providing opportunities for China and Islamist terrorists.

Mr Wallace told a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester: “It is all interconnected and Afghanistan matters.

Conservative Party conference
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the Conservative Party conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Who popped up immediately as the US and Nato were leaving, but China, offering to invest in Afghanistan.

“That was about securing land routes to ports such as Karachi and also into Pakistan.

“It is all connected. The ripples from Afghanistan will be felt by al-Shabaab in Somalia, and of course al-Shabaab pose a threat to British interests in Kenya and to our friends in Kenya.

“The ripples of another superpower being portrayed as defeated by Islamic terrorism will be felt across the world.”

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