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Al Jazeera says Qatar's prime minister met with Taliban's supreme leader in Afghanistan


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The supreme leader of the Taliban met in Afghanistan with Qatar's prime minister this month, the first-such publicly known meeting between the Taliban's reclusive leader and a foreign official, the Al Jazeera satellite news network reported Wednesday.

Haibatullah Akhunzada met Qatar's Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on May 12 in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, Al Jazeera said. Sheikh Mohammed also is the foreign minister of Qatar, an energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula.

The state-owned network did not specifically discuss what the two officials spoke about, though it described the meeting as aimed at ways to end the Taliban's international isolation.

Qatari government officials declined to discuss the meeting, which Reuters first reported. The Taliban did not respond to requests for comment regarding the meeting. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

It's unclear, however, what effect such a meeting will have. The Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war. In the time since, Afghanistan has become the most repressive in the world for women and girls, depriving them of virtually all their basic rights, according to the U.N. Hunger remains endemic.

Taliban fighters also exchanged gunfire with Iranian border guards on Saturday.

Qatar, which hosts a major U.S. military base in the region, served as a crucial point for those fleeing the Taliban in the chaotic days of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Qatar also hosts a diplomatic post for the Taliban and hosted talks between the group and then-President Donald Trump's administration.