Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani held secret talks with Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhunzada. This is the first time Akhunzada is known to have met a foreign leader. The two leaders, who met on May 12, talked about resolving tension with the international community, Reuters reported.
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 Taliban, said the source. Sheikh Mohammed raised issues like the need to end Taliban bans on girls’ education and women’s employment.
Qatar has been critical of the Taliban's restrictions on women. At the same time, has been using its long-standing relations with the Islamist movements to push Kabul for deeper engagement with the international community. The US, along with the UN and other humanitarian groups, have been urging the Taliban to restore freedom of movement for women and bring Afghans from outside Taliban ranks into government.
Over the past two years, the Taliban has closed secondary schools for girls. It has also banned women from attending universities and working in non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan. According to a UN report presented in March at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Taliban's treatment of women and children could amount to a crime against humanity.
The Taliban say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan customs, Reuters reported. Haibtullah's willingness to meet with Sheikh Mohammed suggests that he is open to exploring ways to end the nation's isolation and boost relief programs as the country plunges into hunger and poverty.