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June 18, 2013

Taliban Opens Office for Talks with US, Afghan Government

by Ayaz Gul

Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents opened their political office in Qatar Tuesday, paving the way for direct peace talks with representatives of the Kabul government and U.S. officials.
 
Taliban representative Mohammed Sohail Shaeen announced the opening of the office in a news conference in Doha, the capital of Qatar. He said the move is part of efforts to support a peaceful political solution to Afghan problems and to improve the Taliban’s relations with the international community. The Taliban official outlined the group's objectives for its political office in Doha.

“One, to reach understanding and initiate talks with countries of the world for the purpose of improving relations with them; two, to support a political and peaceful solution, which [would] include [the] end of the occupation of Afghanistan and establishment of an independent Islamic system…; three, to hold meetings with the Afghans as times may demand,” he said.

The Taliban announcement came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai disclosed in Kabul that Afghanistan will soon send peace negotiators to Qatar for talks with representatives of the militant group. Karzai said there are no pre-conditions from his side for the proposed negotiations.

“But we have principles laid down, that the talks having begun in Qatar must immediately be moved to Afghanistan; second, that the talks must bring about an end to violence in Afghanistan, third, that the talks must not become a tool for any third country for exploitation with regard to its or their interests in Afghanistan.”

In a significant move, the United States said that its officials will soon travel to Qatar to hold talks with the Taliban. These talks will  mark the first direct contact between the two sides since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan nearly 12-years ago to oust the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and other operatives of the terrorist network.

The official opening of the Taliban political office in Qatar came the same day the U.S.-led NATO coalition began the final phase of handing over nationwide security responsibility to Afghan forces. Addressing a ceremony at a military academy just outside Kabul, Karzai said that the transition to Afghan forces was one of his greatest desires and will hold significant meaning to the people of Afghanistan.
 
“For the people of Afghanistan this is equally, perhaps more of a great day, where the Afghan people see their own children, their own young ones providing protection for their lives and to their country,“ he said.
 
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also spoke on the occasion and said the alliance will continue to help Afghan troops in security operations if needed, but it will no longer plan, execute or lead the activity.
 
The security transition began in March 2011 and Tuesday’s handover of responsibility of restive eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan has marked the completion of the five-stage process.
 
But after recent high-profile insurgent attacks in Kabul, including one on Tuesday, critics are skeptical about the ability of the 350,000 Afghan security forces to deal with the Taliban insurgency after 2014, when most foreign troops will have withdrawn.  High rates of desertion and uncertainty about future foreign aid have also fueled the doubts about the integrity of the Afghan forces.

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