Taliban says it will open Qatar office for talks with U.S.
SomalilandVoice — The Taliban announced on Tuesday that it has agreed to open a “political office” in Qatar to hold talks with the United States, the first time the militant group has confirmed it has an interest in negotiating with Washington.
The Obama administration has high hopes for a negotiated deal that could deflate the Taliban insurgency, allowing Washington to make good on its commitment to draw down troops steadily over the next two years. But in the short term, experts said, talks likely will revolve around a possible agreement to swap Guantanamo detainees for Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2009.
The Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996 until the fall of 2001, a period during which al-Qaeda used the country as a staging ground for attacks on the United States. The Taliban regime was toppled by a U.S.-led NATO military campaign months after the Sept. 11 attacks, but it regrouped as an insurgency that straddles the border with Pakistan.
Taliban leaders say they seek to rule Afghanistan again as an Islamic state free of corruption and subjection by the West, guided by the group’s strict interpretation of Sharia law. The group has previously said it would not negotiate with the existing Afghan government in Kabul until foreign troops, which it regards as occupiers, withdraw.
In a statement Tuesday, the Taliban said it and the United States are the “two main sides” who have a vested interest in finding a solution to Afghanistan’s problems. The statement made no mention of the Afghan government, which it in general disparages as a “puppet” regime beholden to the West.
The Taliban said talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, would create “a better understanding with the internationals,” though it warned that the United States “would never reach these goals of theirs.” It did not say whether it was open to having Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration play a role in talks–participation that the United States has said is key to any deal.
U.S. officials held secret talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar,a wealthy Persian Gulf emirate, and Germany last year, but those discussions appear to have yielded few results. The possibility of opening a Taliban office in Doha so talks could continue was widely rumored in December.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Tuesday reiterated its policy regarding talks with the Taliban but declined to provide a detailed response to the Taliban’s statement. “We support an Afghan-led reconciliation process in which the Taliban renounce violence, break with al-Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution, especially the protections for minorities and women,” embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said.
In response to a question about a Taliban office in Doha, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said Tuesday that Islamabad supports an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.”
“We strongly believe that stability and peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s core interest,” Basit said.
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