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June 18, 2013

US, Afghanistan to Hold Talks with Taliban

by Meredith Buel

The United States and the government of Afghanistan have announced their intention to hold talks with the Taliban after nearly 12 years of war.  But analysts are cautioning against any expectation such talks will succeed quickly.  

The Taliban have opened a new office in Doha, Qatar - saying the group wants a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

A senior U.S. official says the first meeting with the Taliban is expected to take place later this week.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his representatives will travel to Qatar for meetings with the Taliban soon.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.

“An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," said Psaki.

Talks in Qatar would be the first formal peace negotiations designed to end the war in Afghanistan.

Andrew Wilder, who directs the Afghan program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, does not expect a quick breakthrough.

“Lessons from elsewhere suggest there is not a quick solution and I think we should also be managing expectations.  I don’t anticipate in the next few months we are going to have a complete settlement to the conflict that has gone on for three decades in Afghanistan," said Wilder.

Wilder says the fierce violence is likely to continue in Afghanistan, where he does not expect a cease-fire.

Foreign policy expert John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies says some members of the Taliban will take a wait-and-see attitude.

“They are interested in seeing who will emerge to replace Karzai.  Then they are interested in seeing how much control they can get on the ground, especially with the increased violence that has taken place recently," said Feffer.

The announcement about peace talks came on the same day Afghan forces took over responsibility for security for the entire country from the international military coalition.

Analyst Andrew Wilder thinks that Pakistan was influential in encouraging the Taliban to engage more seriously in the peace process.

“As the violence in Pakistan has increased and the terrorist activity there has been increasing, I think there is more of a recognition of the need for peace and stability in Afghanistan," he said.

U.S. officials say the core goal in Afghanistan, that it can never again be a safe haven for international terrorism, has not changed.

Again, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki:

“These statements represent an important first step toward reconciliation, the outcome of which must be that the Taliban and other insurgent groups break ties with al-Qaida and violence and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections for women and minorities," she said.

Related story by Jeff Custer:

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