The United States will engage in direct peace negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar next week, aimed at achieving peace in Afghanistan, senior White House officials have said.
Tuesday’s announcement came as the Taliban opened a political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, to help start talks on ending the 12-year-old conflict, saying it wanted a political solution that would bring about a just government and end foreign occupation.
Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem told a news conference at the office in Doha that the armed group wanted good relations with Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries.
US President Barack Obama said the opening of the Taliban office was an important first step toward reconciliation between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government.
He also praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for taking a courageous step by sending representatives to Qatar to discuss peace with the Taliban.
He warned, however, that the process would be lengthy and insisted that the Taliban break ties with al-Qaeda and end violence.
A senior representative of the Afghan government confirmed that talks were scheduled with the Taliban and said the progress was made after secret discussions with the group.
“Peace talks will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council,” said the senior official, referring to the body created by Karzai in 2010 to negotiate peace with the group.
The Taliban has until now said it would not countenance peace talks with the Karzai government, which it calls a “stooge” of the United States and other Western nations.
The peace talks, if they go ahead, could also lead to a reduction in fighting across Afghanistan, the official said.
“We hope that the attacks carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan will reduce while we talk peace; there is no point in talking if the bombs continue to kill civilians,” he said.
The announcement came on the same day that the Taliban opened their long-delayed office in the Qatari capital.
In a move that may anger the Afghan government, the white Taliban flag was at his side, and a large sign behind him proclaimed the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, the name the Taliban used during their brief national rule in the 1990s.
Both events may have been timed to coincide with a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the beginning of the final phase of security transition from the US-led coalition to the Afghan state. [Al Jazeera]