CIA director held secret meeting with Taliban
Washington, Aug. 24 (PTI): America’s top spy held a secret meeting with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday in the highest-level face-to-face encounter between the two sides since the militant group seized the Afghan capital, a media report said on Tuesday.
The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15, two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war. This forced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country to the UAE.
CIA Director William J. Burns held a secret meeting in Kabul on Monday with Baradar in the highest-level face-to-face encounter between the Taliban and the Biden administration since the militants seized the Afghan capital, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
President Joe Biden’s decision to dispatch his top spy, a veteran of the foreign service, comes amid a frantic effort to evacuate people from Kabul international airport in what the president has called “one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” the paper said.
The CIA declined to comment on the Taliban meeting but the discussions likely involved the impending August 31 deadline for the US military to conclude its airlift of US citizens and Afghan allies, it added.
The Biden administration is under pressure from some allies to keep US forces in the country beyond August 31 deadline in order to assist the evacuation of tens of thousands of citizens of the US and Western countries as well as Afghan allies desperate to escape Taliban rule.
However, a Taliban spokesman on Monday warned that there will be “consequences” if the US and UK sought an extension to the August 31 deadline for the US-led troop withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Baradar, who spent eight years in Pakistani prison before his release in 2018, has served as the Taliban’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the US in Qatar that resulted in an agreement with the Trump administration on the withdrawal of US forces.
A close friend of the Taliban’s founding supreme leader Muhammad Omar, Baradar is believed to hold significant influence over the Taliban rank-and-file, the paper said.
He fought Soviet forces during their occupation of Afghanistan and was the governor of several provinces in the 1990s when the Taliban last ruled the country.
Since the Taliban’s takeover of the country, he has struck a conciliatory tone, saying the militant group is seeking “an Islamic system in which all people of the nation can participate without discrimination and live harmoniously with each other in an atmosphere of brotherhood.”
In his meeting with Burns on Monday, Baradar faced one of America’s most seasoned diplomats, a former deputy secretary of state who has also served as US ambassador to Russia, the Post said.
No extensions for US evacuations in Afghanistan
A Taliban spokesman says the U.S. must complete its evacuation of people from Afghanistan by the August 31 date the Biden administration set for the withdrawal of all American troops. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says his group will accept no extensions to the deadline. He says life is returning to normal in the country but chaos at the airport remains a problem. Many Afghans are desperate to flee the Taliban takeover of the country.
Mujahid says he is not aware of any meeting between the Taliban and the CIA, but he did not deny that such a meeting took place.