Afghani President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday that his government would accept Taliban insurgents’ opening a representative office in the Gulf state of Qatar for the purpose of holding peace talks, although Saudi Arabia or Turkey would be preferable venues.
If the US insists that the insurgents establish a liaison office in Qatar, “we are agreed,” Karzai said in a presidential statement.
Earlier this month, Kabul recalled its ambassador to Qatar for consultations over reports that the Taliban was planning to open an office in the tiny, gas-rich Arab state.
The Islamist group has so far not publicly responded to peace offers. The insurgents, who perceive themselves as winning the war, have repeatedly said they would not engage in talks with the government while foreign troops remain on Afghan soil.
The US and its NATO allies have been pursuing a war against the Taliban for a decade. NATO plans to wrap up its combat activities in Afghanistan in 2014.
The government in Kabul repeatedly emphasized it would accept no foreign intervention in its plans to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban. Afghan media reports in recent weeks have speculated that the US and other foreign governments with a stake in the war were trying to strike a separate deal with the Taliban.
The prospect of peace talks suffered a serious setback in September when former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of a body set up to seek contacts with the Taliban, was assassinated. The attacker was posing as a Taliban peace emissary.
After Rabbani’s death, Karzai said peace efforts could only take place if the Taliban established a political office that would be authorized to conduct talks on a peaceful end to the 10-year war. He proposed that it be set up in Saudi Arabia or in Turkey, if the insurgent movement did not want to establish it in Afghanistan.
“Having an exact address for the opposition [is a condition] for practical steps toward starting negotiations,” Tuesday’s statement said.