Taliban to open Qatar office in breakthrough move towards peace deal in Afghanistan
THE TALIBAN has said it is prepared to open a political office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations “with the international community” in what could be the most significant breakthrough towards a peaceful end in 10 years of war in Afghanistan.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, announced yesterday morning that the insurgent leadership had reached an agreement with the Qatar government and other “relevant parties” about the opening of the office but did not say when it would happen.
Secret discussions between American and Taliban officials have been under way for months about taking confidence-building measures, including the establishment of a political office outside the immediate region and the release of Taliban prisoners.
Initial reports suggested that a prisoner release had been negotiated at the same time as the Qatar office plan.
The announcement comes a week after the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, dropped his opposition to Qatar as the site of the office, bowing to US pressure.
Mr Karzai had said he preferred Saudi Arabia or Turkey to host the political bureau.
The office is intended to provide a venue for Taliban officials to carry out talks with the US and other negotiators without fear of assassination or arrest by Nato or the Afghan government.
Western diplomats hope it would also lessen Pakistan’s control of the Taliban.
Pakistan plays host to most of the Taliban leadership, which it sees as an important bargaining counter in negotiations over the future of the region.
One western diplomat said recently: “Whenever you talk to Taliban officials individually or in small groups there is a lot of interest in a peaceful settlement. Whenever there are 10 or more in the room, they all clam up because nobody knows who might be an ISI [Pakistan intelligence] informer.”
It is not clear whether the Pakistan government gave its approval to the Qatar office opening.
The other advantage of having a Taliban office is that it should reduce the risk of impostors presenting themselves as Taliban negotiators.
One such impostor killed the Afghan government’s peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September last year, detonating a suicide bomb hidden in his turban.
Another impostor fooled Afghan, British and US intelligence in 2010, pocketing thousands of dollars in cash incentives for coming to peace talks before he was revealed not to be the high-ranking Taliban official he claimed. – (Guardian service)