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The Taliban on Saturday rejected cooperation with the United States to stop extremist groups in Afghanistan, taking a firm stance on a key issue ahead of the first direct talks between former foes since the US withdrew from the country in August .

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Senior Taliban officials and US representatives are meeting in Qatar’s capital Doha later this week. Officials on both sides have said the issues include reining in extremist groups and evacuating foreign nationals and Afghans from the country. The Taliban have indicated flexibility on the evacuation.

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However, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told The Associated Press that there would be no cooperation with Washington to stop the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan. IS has claimed responsibility for several recent attacks, including a suicide bombing on Friday that killed 46 minority Shia Muslims and injured dozens while offering prayers at a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz. .

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Asked if the Taliban would work with the US to become affiliated with the Islamic State, Shaheen said, “We are capable of dealing with Daesh independently.” He used an Arabic acronym for IS.

IS has launched repeated attacks on the country’s Shiites since its emergence in eastern Afghanistan in 2014. It is also seen as a terrorist group that is the biggest threat to the United States for its ability to strike American targets.

The weekend meeting in Doha is the first since US forces withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, ending a 20-year military presence as the Taliban took over the country. The US has made it clear that the talks are not a prelude to recognition.

The talks come after two days of difficult discussions between Pakistani officials in Islamabad and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, which focused on Afghanistan. Pakistani officials urged the United States to release billions of dollars of international funds to engage with Afghanistan’s new rulers and avoid an economic downturn.

Pakistan also had a message for the Taliban, urging them to become more inclusive and pay attention to human rights and minority ethnic and religious groups.

Taliban fighters check passengers on the side of a road in Kunduz on October 10, 2021. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

Later on Saturday, Doha-based Al-Jazeera English reported that talks had begun. The news outlet cited Taliban-appointed Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaki for Afghanistan as saying the Taliban had asked the US to lift its embargo on Afghan central bank reserves.

There was no immediate word from Washington on the talks.

After Friday’s attack, Shia clerics from Afghanistan attacked the Taliban, demanding more security at their places of worship. The IS ally claimed responsibility and identified the attacker as a Uighur Muslim. The claim said the attack targeted both Shias and the Taliban because of their alleged desire to expel Uighurs to satisfy China’s demands. It was the deadliest attack since US and NATO troops left Afghanistan on August 30.

related: Afghanistan and the Taliban: 9/11 to the Present

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the US-based Wilson Center, said Friday’s attack could be a harbinger of more violence. Most Uyghur militants belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which has for decades found a safe haven in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“If (IS) claims are true, China’s concerns about terrorism in (Afghanistan) will increase, to which the Taliban claims to be receptive,” he tweeted after the attack.

Meanwhile, the Taliban on Saturday began to drive out Afghans who had fled insurgent attacks in August and were living in tents in Kabul Park, where they fled after the Kunduz attack, back to their homes in the country’s north. The dangers are increasing.

Mohammad Arsa Kharoti, a Taliban official in charge of refugees, said there are 1.3 million Afghans displaced by past wars and that the Taliban lack the funds to make arrangements for homecoming for all. He said the Taliban have so far made arrangements for the return of 1,005 displaced families to their homes.

Shokaria Khanum, who spent several weeks in a tent in the park and waited on Saturday to leave for Kunduz in a bus organized by the Taliban, said she was not worried about the growing IS threat in the northern province.

related: 13 US service members among many killed in suicide bombings at Kabul airport

“At least we have four walls,” she said, but added that she was nervous about the future after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government troops destroyed their home.

“It’s winter. There’s no firewood. We need water and food,” she said.

A US official said that during the Doha talks, US officials will also try to uphold their commitment to the Taliban to allow Americans and other foreign nationals to leave Afghanistan, as well as Afghans who have never been in contact with the US military or government and other Afghan allies. used to work for The official spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to speak on record about the meetings.

The Biden administration has filed questions and complaints about the slow pace of the US smooth evacuation from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan since the US withdrawal.

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Associated Press writers Ellen Nickmeyer in Washington and Samya Kullab in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.