'No contact with Taliban' over political office

By AFP
Published: December 26, 2011

Afghan authorities say negotiations with Taliban can only take place after they stop their attacks. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KABUL: Afghanistan has not made formal contact with the Taliban over the opening of a political office despite setting out conditions for peace talks to begin, a High Peace Council official said Sunday.

Afghan authorities have said negotiations with the Taliban can only take place after they stop their attacks, cut ties to al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution, which guarantees civil rights.

The country and its international backers have increasingly looked for a political solution to the 10-year insurgency as Nato-led International Security Assistance Force combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

But despite the ongoing debate about the location and conditions for a Taliban office to push forward peace talks, finding a genuine Taliban representative to engage with has proved difficult.

“There hasn’t been formal contact,” an official in the High Peace Council said on condition of anonymity.

“We have been trying for several years for contacts. There have been efforts made, but we haven’t reached a tangible result.

“If we are going to have an office we want to engage with genuine Taliban representatives.”

One Western diplomat said he understood the US and Germany had agreed with the Taliban on the opening of an office in Qatar before Afghanistan voiced its opposition at having been left out of the talks.

Afghan authorities have not ruled out Doha, the Qatari capital, as a possible location for a Taliban address, despite recalling their ambassador over the perceived snub.

President Hamid Karzai convened a top level meeting on December 15 involving members of the High Peace Council to discuss how to move forward with the peace process, which was derailed by the September assassination of council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The meeting put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the preferred location to open a Taliban office abroad.

Afghan authorities also say Pakistan, where many members of the insurgent group are based, must be involved in any talks.

“If Pakistan are not on board the people of Afghanistan will not be able to reach peace,” the High Peace Council official said.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have severely deteriorated this year. On November 26, US air strikes near the Afghan border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, leading Islamabad to halt supply routes for Nato forces.

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