Afghanistan will accept Taliban liaison unit being set up in Qatar

Wed, Dec 28, 2011, 00:00

KABUL – Afghanistan will accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to start peace talks but no foreign power can get involved in the process without its consent, the government’s peace council said, as efforts gather pace to find a solution to the decade-long war.

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, in a note to foreign missions, has set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban after Kabul grew concerned that the United States and Qatar, helped by Germany, had secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

US officials have held about half a dozen meetings with their insurgent contacts, mostly in Germany and Doha with representatives of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, this year to prepare the way for face-to-face talks between the group and the Afghan government.

A representative office for the group is considered the starting point for such talks and Doha has in the past served as a meeting ground for initial contacts.

But the Afghan peace commission which has suffered a series of setbacks including the assassination of its head in September said that negotiations with the Taliban could only begin after they stopped violence against civilians, cut ties to al-Qaeda, and accepted the Afghan constitution which guarantees civil rights and liberties, including rights for women.

The council, according to a copy of the 11-point note made available to Reuters, also said any peace process with the Taliban would have to have the support of Pakistan since members of the insurgent group were based there.

“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is in agreement regarding the opening of an office for the armed opposition, but only to move forward the peace process and conduct negotiations,” the council said.

The government would prefer such an office in either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, both of which it is close to, but was not averse to Doha as long as the authority of the Afghan state was not eroded and the office was only established for talks, officials said.

“We are saying Saudi or Turkey are preferable, we are not saying it has to be there only. The only condition is it should be in an Islamic country,” said a government official.

President Hamid Karzai’s administration recalled its ambassador from Doha last week, apparently angry that it had been kept in the dark about the latest round of contacts with the insurgent group.

Officials said Kabul was also deeply concerned about reports that the US was considering the transfer of a small number of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay military prison to Doha as a prelude to the talks.

The Afghan government wanted the prisoners to be returned to its custody, the official said.

Reuters reported this month that the US was considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay into Afghan government custody as part of accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy.

“We have no problem with this. In fact we have been demanding this for a while. These are Afghan prisoners,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

The tension between the Karzai administration and the US over engaging the Taliban underscores the challenges of seeking a political settlement as the West prepares to withdraw most combat troops from the country by 2014. Efforts to engage the insurgent group have faced a string of setbacks, the most recent being the assassination of the head of the peace council and former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, by a suicide bomber who pretended to be a Taliban emissary. – (Reuters)