Taliban, US start Qatar talks
WASHINGTON / KABUL
Freed Afghan prisoners pray during a ceremony held following their arrival in Kabul in this file photo. US officials start to talk with Taliban to discuss various issues including a prisoner transfer from Guantanamo. AFP photoTaliban negotiators are meeting U.S. officials in Qatar to discuss preliminary trust-building measures aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times has reported ahead of Pakistani-Afghan talks over new cooperation against the Taliban insurgency.
Citing several former Taliban officials, the newspaper said the measures included a possible prisoner transfer from Guantanamo. The Afghan government is expecting a delegation from the Qatari government to visit Kabul to explain its role in the talks, said High Peace Council secretary Aminundin Muzaffari. A former Taliban official also confirmed the talks. “The actual peace talks have not yet begun -- they are in the process of trust-building and obviously this will take some time,” Mawlavi Qalamuddin said.
The former officials said four to eight Taliban representatives had traveled to Qatar from Pakistan to set up a political office for the exiled Afghan insurgent group, the report said. The comments suggest that the Taliban, who have not publicly said they would engage in peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, were gearing up for preliminary discussions, the report added.
U.S. officials would not deny that meetings had taken place, and the discussions seemed to have at least the tacit approval of Pakistan, which has thwarted previous efforts by the Taliban to engage in talks, the daily noted. The Taliban announced earlier this month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar. Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will visit Kabul on Feb. 1, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told a news conference. Relations between the neighbors are often tense and Kabul has accused Pakistan in the past of supporting the Taliban in their 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan.
“This visit will mark a new cooperation relations phase between the two countries,” Mosazai said. “Both sides will discuss the fight against terrorism and Pakistan’s essential support to the peace process in Afghanistan,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. “Pakistan plays a key role in the Afghan peace process and Afghanistan needs the sincere efforts of our neighboring country in peace negotiations,” Mosazai said.
Khar’s visit comes after Pakistan made overtures to Afghanistan to resume talks over the Taliban which broke down following the assassination of Kabul’s chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September, officials said. Karzai accused Pakistan of responsibility for the murder and last month accused Pakistan of sabotaging all negotiations with the Taliban.