After years of conflict, hopes of negotiations as the way forward to end the fighting in Afghanistan were kindled on Tuesday when the Taliban announced that it was ready to hold peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Representatives of the U.S. will likely meet with the Taliban in Doha on Thursday, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Reuters is quoting a senior Taliban official as saying that peace talks “will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council”. The High Peace Council was set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2010 to find a negotiated end to the conflict.
The Taliban’s announcement breaks fresh ground after more than a decade of fighting as the group had so far rejected talks with Kabul, disparaging the Karzai government as a “stooge” of the Americans and the West.
The dramatic turnaround in the position of the Afghan militant group coincided with the opening of its office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, and the nationwide takeover of security duties by the Afghan forces from NATO.
In Kabul, Mr. Karzai seemed to be on the same page as the Taliban on starting talks. He announced that his government would be sending a delegation to Qatar for talks with the militant group. He, however, stressed that, in the end, talks with the Taliban must be Afghan-controlled. “With the opening of office the peace negotiations between High Peace Council and Taliban must start soon. Once talks start in Qatar the process should be transferred to Afghanistan immediately,” he observed at a news conference.
The Taliban’s declaration appeared to generate calibrated enthusiasm in Washington. Senior officials in the Obama administration were quick to pronounce that the U.S. will meet Taliban officials in Doha.
Yet, they warned that there were no quick-fixes to resolve the crisis, and a lengthy process of negotiations was in the offing. “This is but the first step in what will be a long road,” one U.S. official was quoted as saying. In Doha, Mohammed Naim, a Taliban spokesman, announced over television that his group’s political and military goals were confined to Afghanistan alone, and would not cover other countries.
The Taliban’s declaration was apparently timed to bring about internal reconciliation ahead of the withdrawal of U.S.-led NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. On Tuesday, Afghan forces were on the eve of assuming full responsibility for providing security cover to the entire country, marking a milestone ahead of the pull-out of NATO forces next year.