The United States is to open direct negotiations with the Afghan Taliban on Thursday in Doha hours after the group confirmed it was opening an office in Qatar in a bid to start “dialogue with the world.”
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama expressed guarded optimism about the Taliban spokesman Muhammed Naim’s confirmation that the group would participate in the peace talks.
In comments at the Group of Eight Summit in Northern Ireland, President Obama said the direct talks are an “important development.”
“This is an important first step towards reconciliation, although it is a very early step,” Obama told reporters. “We anticipate there will be lots of bumps in the road.”
The insurgent group, which has been fighting against US-led Nato troops and the Afghan government for 12 years, broke off initial contacts with the Americans restricted to a prisoner swap last year and have long refused to negotiate with Kabul.
Their announcement came just hours after Afghan government forces formally took over responsibility for national security from a Nato combat mission scheduled to leave the country next year.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that the office was intended “to open dialogue between the Taliban and the world”.
US officials said they expected the Taliban to issue a statement on Tuesday opposing the use of Afghan soil for attacks on other countries and that they support an Afghan peace process. Washington will also insist the Taliban break ties with al Qaeda, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities, the officials told reporters in a conference call.
“This is but the first step in what will be a long road,” one US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a statement, the Taliban said it would not allow anyone to pose a threat to other countries from Afghan soil.
However, the Taliban statement made no specific promises or any direct reference to peace talks.
“We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan’s occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security,” the Taliban added.
The Taliban confirmed they were opening an office in Doha, and wanted “good relations” with other countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2013.
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