Taliban strike deal with Qatar on office
Taliban militants take part in a training session in an area of Pakistan’s South Waziristan region along the Afghan border. AP photoThe Afghan Taliban said yesterday they have reached a preliminary deal with the Gulf state of Qatar to open a liaison office there in what could be the first step toward peace talks to end more than a decade of war.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the liaison office will conduct negotiations with the international community but did not say when it would open. For the United States and its allies, the idea of a Taliban political office in the Qatari capital Doha has become the central element in efforts to draw the insurgents into peace talks.
Mujahid’s emailed statement also said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, has “requested the exchange of prisoners from Guantanamo.” He was referring to a Taliban demand that the U.S. military release five Afghan prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to an Associated Press report.
The U.S. outreach this year has progressed to the point that there was active discussion on two steps that the Taliban seek as precursors to negotiations, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Trust-building measures under discussion involve setting up a Taliban headquarters office and the release of the Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo. President Hamid Karzai said Dec. 27 his government would accept the Taliban establishing a liaison office in Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia for the purpose of holding peace talks.
Afghans welcome decision
A senior member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the body charged with seeking a negotiated end to the country’s decade-long war, said he welcomed the Taliban’s decision to set up a political office in Qatar. “It is important for the Taliban to negotiate with the international community, especially with the U.S., and we welcome their decision to set up a political office,” Arsala Rahmani, a top negotiator on the council, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, officials said three explosions in a day have killed 13 people in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The dead include a child and four police officers. A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle struck in yesterday morning in Kandahar, killing four civilians and a policemen.
In the early evening, two more blasts went off within minutes of each other at a central Kandahar intersection. Provincial spokesman Faisal Ahmad says five civilians were killed, including a child, and three policemen died. Ten other people were wounded in the evening’s two bombings.