KABUL (Reuters) – A delegation from the Afghan Taliban met officials in Uzbekistan during a five-day trip to the country last week to discuss issues including transport and power lines and peace in Afghanistan, the movement’s political office said.
Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, said on Saturday Taliban representatives met Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Kamilov and Special Representative for Afghanistan Ismatulla Irgashev during the Aug. 6-10 visit.
He said they “discussed current and future national projects such as security for railroad and power lines.”
“Views were also exchanged with officials of Uzbekistan about the withdrawal of foreign forces and how to achieve peace in Afghanistan,” he said.
The statement, issued as Taliban fighters were battling government forces for control of the central city of Ghazni, adds to a mixed series of signals since an unexpected three-day truce during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June.
Taliban representatives have met U.S. officials to talk about the framework for possible peace talks and the Western-backed government is considering offering a second ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday later this month.
But at the same time, fierce fighting has continued in different parts of Afghanistan, inflicting heavy casualties on soldiers and police and threatening the security of parliamentary elections scheduled in October.
The attack on Ghazni, which controls a vital highway between the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan, has given the insurgents their highest profile success since they came close to taking the western city of Farah in May.
The rail and power links from Uzbekistan are vital both for cross-border trade and for maintaining Afghanistan’s shaky power supplies, which are already subject to frequent blackouts.
The Taliban, fighting to topple the Western-backed government and drive out international forces, have generally refrained from sabotaging vital infrastructure and have sought to reassure neighbouring countries about their aims.
A senior Taliban official said the movement had established a political office in the Uzbek capital Tashkent aimed at developing better ties and showing that they did not intend to support local insurgent groups.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Borsuk)