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KABUL: The acting defence minister of the Afghan Taliban has met the president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, for talks in Abu Dhabi on strengthening relations, his ministry and UAE state media reported on Monday.

The acting defence minister, Mullah Yaqoob, is the son of the late supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, and the meeting with the UAE president is a rare encounter between a senior member of the group and a foreign head of state.

They discussed “strengthening relations, bilateral cooperation between the UAE and Afghanistan and other important issues”, the Afghan defence ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The UAE state news agency WAM reported that the meeting took place on Sunday.

The Taliban administration in Afghanistan has not been formally recognised by any government since the militants swept to power last year as US-led foreign forces withdrew after two decades of war.

The Taliban have for years run a political office in Qatar where top members of the group have often met foreign officials.

UAE president visits Qatar in sign of thaw

The UAE news agency released photographs of the talks that showed another senior Taliban figure, Anas Haqqani, was present at the talks.

The meeting with the UAE president comes after the Taliban, in September, signed a final contract for running Afghanistan’s airports with the UAE company GAAC Holding, which had beat out rival bids from Qatar and Turkey.

The UAE is keen to counter Qatar’s diplomatic influence in Afghanistan with the airport contract, diplomatic sources have told Reuters.

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