Taliban Will Open 'Political Office' To Hold Peace Talks With US
The Washington Post reported Tuesday President Obama's administration hoped civil negotiations might calm the Taliban insurgency, which would ease U.S. concerns about a diminished military presence in the future. Immediate talks will probably focus on the exchange of an undetermined number of Guantanamo detainees for the release of Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan two years ago.
The Taliban was responsible for governing Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, all the while al-Qaeda used the country as its base for planning attacks on the U.S., the Post report pointed out. The group has been largely vilified in Western countries, so it came as a shock to both diplomats and Afghan officials when Vice President Joe Biden said last month the Taliban was "not our enemy."
It appears the Obama administration is making a serious effort to firmly establish peace with the group. In November, the two sides reached an agreement to release five Afghan detainees from Guantanamo in exchange for a public announcement from the Taliban denouncing international terrorist activity. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai ultimately rejected the terms, squashing the deal.
Relations between Afghanistan and the Taliban remain strained, to say the least. From the Post:
In a statement Tuesday, the Taliban said it and the United States are the “two main sides” who have a vested interest in finding a solution to Afghanistan’s problems. The statement made no mention of the Afghan government, which it in general disparages as a “puppet” regime beholden to the West.
The Taliban said talks in Doha, Qatar’s capital, would create “a better understanding with the internationals,” though it warned that the United States “would never reach these goals of theirs.” It did not say whether it was open to having Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration play a role in talks--participation that the United States has said is key to any deal.
…U.S. officials declined to provide a detailed response to the Taliban’s statement, but reiterated the Obama administration’s position that the Afghan government must take a lead role in any peace talks.
“We continue to support an Afghan-led process that would bring Afghans together and allow insurgents to come off the battlefield,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “The conditions for reconciliation remain unchanged -- insurgents would need to break from al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution, including its provisions on respect for the rights of all Afghans, including women and ethnic minorities.”
According to representatives from the Afghan government's High Peace Council, the Taliban envoys expected to work in Doha's political office are "people who are not involved in the fighting."
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