CIA chief holds secret meeting with Taliban leader in Kabul

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CIA Director William J. Burns & Abdul Ghani Baradar

ANKARA:  CIA Director William J. Burns reportedly held a secret meeting with the Taliban’s de facto leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, according to a report on Tuesday.

This was the first highest-level face-to-face meeting between the Taliban and the Biden administration since the group’s takeover of the Afghan capital, The Washington Post quoted US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as saying.

The CIA did not make any statement about the meeting, but the discussions likely involved an extension in the Aug. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, according to the report.

The Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told Sky News earlier on Monday that if the US were to seek talks aimed at extending the deadline, “the answer is no.”

“It will create mistrust between us. If they are intent on continuing the occupation, it will provoke a reaction,” he said.

US President Joe Biden has left the door open to staying in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31, but said on Sunday he hopes “we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions” on the matter.

The topic is expected to arise during a virtual G7 meeting on Tuesday, with UK Premier Boris Johnson expected to push Biden for an extension in the self-imposed deadline.

The Taliban movement seized control of Afghanistan after taking the capital Kabul on Aug. 15, forcing the Afghan president and other top officials to flee the country.

The unexpected power grab triggered a rush to flee Afghanistan, including civilians who assisted foreign soldiers or groups and now fear the Taliban retribution.

Born in 1968 in the central province of Uruzgan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is one of the four founders of the Taliban.

He continues to serve as Akhundzada’s deputy, and is also the group’s top executive in charge of political affairs.

As the Taliban’s second-in-command and de facto leader, Baradar signed a peace deal with the US in February last year on behalf of the group and held high-level talks with many officials in the peace negotiations.

He has served as the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, since January 2019.

Baradar became the first Taliban leader who held a phone call with Donald Trump on March 3, 2020, as part of the then-ongoing peace talks.-AA

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