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Taliban travel from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan for talks

AP  |  Islamabad 

In a rare diplomatic foray and the strongest sign yet of the Taliban's increasing political presence in the region, the of the militant group's political office led a delegation to to meet senior officials, Uzbek and officials said.

represented the insurgents in the four-day talks that ended Friday and included meetings with Uzbekistan's as well as its special representative to Ismatilla Irgashev.

The meetings follow an offer made by Uzbek in March to peace in

Suhail Shaheen, for the Taliban's political office in Qatar, said in a statement to on Saturday that discussions covered everything from international withdrawal to peace prospects to possible Uzbek-funded development projects that could include railway lines and

Shaheen said Uzbek officials discussed their security concerns surrounding the development projects.

"also exchanged views with the Uzbek officials about the withdrawal of the foreign troops and reconciliation in Afghanistan," he said in the statement.

website offered a terse announcement on the visit saying "the sides exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in "

Still, the meetings are significant coming as the Taliban ramps up pressure on with relentless and deadly attacks and holds preliminary talks with the insurgents in an attempt to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan's protracted war.

The Taliban have gained increasing attention from as well as Uzbekistan, who view the insurgency as a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. The has accused of giving weapons to the Taliban.

Still, Andrew Wilder, vice of programs at the said would welcome a "constructive" Russian role in finding a way toward a peace pact in Afghanistan.

"What wouldn't be helpful would be if the Uzbek efforts to facilitate lines of communication with the Taliban are not closely coordinated with the Afghan government," he said.

"High profile talks by foreign governments with the Taliban that exclude the risk providing too much legitimacy to the Taliban without getting much in return," Wilder said.

There was no immediate comment from the Afghan government, but neither the Taliban nor the Uzbek statement mentioned the

For Uzbekistan, the IS presence is particularly worrisome as hundreds of its fighters are former members of the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a declared terrorist group considered the of some of the more horrific attacks carried out by IS in Afghanistan.

Last year, there were reports that the son of Tahir Yuldashev, the powerful Uzbek of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who was killed in a U.S. missile strike in in 2009, was leading efforts to help expand IS influence in Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan security forces reportedly rescued scores of Afghan Uzbeks who had declared their allegiance to IS when they came under attack by Taliban fighters in not far from the border with

The rescued Uzbek warriors declared they would join the peace process. Most of those rescued were Afghan Uzbeks loyal to Afghanistan's Vice who had gone over to IS after Dostum fell out with Afghan President and fled to in May last year.

Coincidentally their rescue from the Taliban came just days after Dostum returned to Afghanistan and reconciled with

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, August 12 2018. 16:05 IST