US and Taliban to open direct peace talks in Qatar

 
Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem, second right, at opening of Doha office. 18 June 2013 Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem, second right, opened the Doha office

The US is to open direct peace talks with the Taliban, senior White House officials have announced.

The first meeting is due to take place in the coming days in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban have just opened their first official overseas office.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government was also sending delegates to Qatar to talk to the Taliban.

The announcement came on the day Nato handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan to government forces.

Pakistan, which was involved in background talks for the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, welcomed the announcement.

US officials said prisoner exchanges would be one topic for discussion with the Taliban, but the first weeks will mainly be used to explore each other's agendas.

President Obama: "We don't anticipate this process will be easy or quick, but we must pursue it in parallel with our military approach"

However, the talks are on condition that the Taliban renounce violence, break ties with al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution - including the rights of women and minorities.

US officials told reporters the first formal meeting between US and Taliban representatives was expected to take place in Doha next week, with talks between President Karzai's High Peace Council and the Taliban due a few days after that.

The level of trust between the Afghan government and the Taliban is described as "low".

In the past, the Taliban have always refused to meet President Karzai or his government, dismissing them as puppets of Washington.

Masoom Stanekzai, secretary of the High Peace Council, would not give a specific date for their talks but said they would take place "within days".

Analysis

There have been three distinct stages in the life of the Taliban.

First they came as a conquering army that swept up from the south in the mid-1990s in reaction to the criminality and corruption of the Afghan civil war.

Secondly came the austere Islamist government from 1996-2001, oppressive to women and with a singular view of the outside world. They were defeated in the war after 9/11.

But since reorganising six years ago they insist that they are different - in favour of education even for girls.

While fighting an insurgency to end foreign occupation, it is this group who have a political wing, who are keen to talk, and hinting that they would be willing to sever their links with al-Qaeda.

But while the Taliban may have opened a political office, there is no guarantee that the men who are still fighting in the field will accept the results of talks.

He told the BBC it was important that all sides should feel "confident and comfortable" at the beginning of the process.

"Eventually the talks should take place on Afghan soil. This is an Afghan issue. No-one other than Afghans can decide," he said.

US officials stressed that this was the first step on a very long road, adding that there was no guarantee of success.

After opening the "political bureau" in Doha alongside Qatari officials, Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem told reporters the group wanted good relations with Afghanistan's neighbours.

A Taliban statement said: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan doesn't want any threats from Afghanistan soil to other countries, and neither permits anyone to threaten other countries using Afghanistan soil.

"We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan's occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security."

The BBC's Paul Adams in Washington says these were key statements that US officials were expecting to hear.

Start Quote

Senior administrators describe it as a milestone on the road to peace. Others will feel it is nearer to treason”

End Quote

Welcoming the prospect of direct talks between the US and Taliban, the Pakistani foreign ministry said that Islamabad was "ready to continue to facilitate the process to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan in accordance with the wishes of the Afghan people".

Pakistan was one of the main backers of the Taliban when the movement swept to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Correspondents say the Taliban is still thought to rely heavily on certain elements in Pakistan and that Pakistani co-operation will be crucial in convincing the Taliban to reach an agreement with the Afghan government.

Security handover

A US official said the militant Haqqani network would also be represented by the Taliban in Doha.

However, the senior US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Joseph Dunford, cast doubt on whether the group would make peace.

Speaking by phone from Kabul he told reporters at the Pentagon: "All I've seen of the Haqqani would make it hard for me to believe they were reconcilable."

Former special envoy: US-Taliban talks marks "beginning of a long road"

In Afghanistan itself on Tuesday, Nato handed over security for the whole of the country to the government for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

At a ceremony in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai said that from Wednesday "our own security and military forces will lead all the security activities".

The ceremony saw the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) hand over control of the last 95 districts in a transition process that began in 2011.

International troops are to remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, providing military back-up when needed.

President Karzai has expressed anger at previous US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without properly consulting his government, reports the BBC's Bilal Sarwary from Kabul.

There is also concern within the presidential palace that the Taliban will use the office in Qatar to raise funds, adds our correspondent.

The US has previously tried to negotiate with the Taliban, but never held direct talks.

In March 2012 the Taliban said it had suspended preliminary negotiations with Washington, citing US efforts to involve the Afghan government as a key stumbling block.

The Taliban set up a diplomatic presence in Qatar in January 2012 and US officials held preliminary discussions there.

Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar. 18 June 2013 There is tight security around the Taliban's new offices in Qatar
 

Comments

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 100.

    Worth a try. In 2001 the Taleban was in Al-Qaeda's pocket. Things have changed a lot in twelve years and the two things are now very different. If the Taleban want the Americans out, the Americans are leaving anyway and the Afghans are capable of maintaining a stalemate with the Taleban, now's a good time to ask what's point of carrying on fighting.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 99.

    So basically... we've left the Afghan people for dead, it won't be long before the corrupt Afghan security forces take the Taliban bribes and Afghanistan will be back in their hands again.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 98.

    10 years of war and NOW they decide to talk about it....

    Go Team America!

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 96.

    I'm sure we'd all love to thank GeeDubya and Tony, without whom none of this would have been possible in the first place

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 95.

    For those of you with short term memory loss, the US did try to talk to the Taliban 10 years ago: they told the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden or we're coming in to get him ourselves. The Taliban said no and the rest is history.

    This is a bleak day for many in Afghanistan. Let's be grown ups here, we all know exactly what will happen when the Taliban take over again.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 94.

    How about, as part of the deal, offering a small part of the country to the womenfolk of Afghanistan, and anyone who likes to listen to music without risk of being hanged? A people amnesty where people not interested in living under medieval rule can get on protected buses and escape.

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 92.

    This war has achieved nothing. The only saving grace, if you can call it that, was the assassination of Bin Laden. Everything else that has happened as a result of this conflict has been massively negative.

    Blair, Bush, Cheney and Campbell need to be charged with war crimes. It's not ridiculous to believe western leaders are capable of these sins.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 91.

    12 years late.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    Talks mean there must be some level of appeasement from our end to the Taliban. I'm not fond of giving ground to people who shoot children for wanting education. However what else can we do? The Taliban are an idea and we've shown over the past decade that you can't blow up an idea.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 89.

    "first weeks will mainly be used to explore each other's agendas" - IF they did not know other's agenda, WHAT WERE THEY FIGHTING FOR 10 YEARS?? ... losers!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 88.

    "We do not negotiate with terrorists!!" Yeah... right. US government knows that once the power and security has been fully transferred to Afghans, no amount cash payments will be able to keep the marionette government from toppling over by Taliban. The marionette government left by Soviets upon withdrawal lasted for three years. US needs Taliban support to beat that.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 87.

    The Afghans have for the first time in 35 years a government that is both broadly independent, democratic and capable of maintaining law and order. I doubt very much that it's people are going to give that up in a hurry.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 86.

    Whatever happened to not negotiating with terrorists? I wonder who won this war then...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 85.

    The US motto : Shoot first, ask questions later.

    "US to open direct Taliban talks" ...they must be running out of bullets.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 84.

    Firstly, the US did talk to the Taliban in 2001; the Taliban wouldn't play ball and hand over Bin Laden hence the invasion. Secondly, the West isn't cutting and running; it has built up Afghan forces to take care of their own security plus the West is also still providing training support ie troops in country. With the infra now in place, GIRoA can talk from a strong position to the Taliban.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 83.

    Break ties with the terrorists the US funded? I'm sure they'll say they have, I'm sure it will be a lie, I'm certain the US (and UK) don't care, and I am 100% certain that the Taliban/alQueda have won an outright victory... as most predicted.
    The UK government has saved some redundancy payments by having its soldiers killed - like Thatcher did with the Falklands.

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 82.

    To question the sanity of America, Britain, and France is totally justified.

    -- Kill, Kill, Kill is-- the only justification for their existence as countries they wallow in ?

    -- Thank God for a few peaceful Europeans.

    --

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 81.

    @Rolf McHarris

    "So it is either talk or spend forever in Afghanistan"

    Not either/or.

    They can identify terrorist training camps using satellite imagery and Drones to bomb them out-of-existence without any need for "boots on the ground"

    Our troops should have been withdrawn from Afghanistan as soon as the camps were destroyed - it's the unnecessary "nation building" that puts the troops at risk

 

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