In the first public step towards negotiations with the U.S. the Taliban announced Tuesday its plans to open an office in Qatar to pursue peace talks. While American and Taliban representatives have met secretly several times over the past year, this is the first time the Afghan military group, which was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001, has openly acknowledged the diplomatic necessity of negotiating with Washington and has ventured into creating a pathway to do so.
In agreeing to open a liaison office in Qatar for the progress of negotiations the Taliban has asked, in exchange, for the release of its detainees held in Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. has agreed to release high-ranking Taliban officials. It has been reported that such figures will include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, and Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan, among many others. Controversially the Taliban has also been pushing for the release of former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund who is held accountable for commanding forces responsible for killing thousands of Shiite Muslims under Taliban rule.
Taliban fighters stand near their weapons after joining Afghanistan government forces at a ceremony in Herat
An office in Qatar will give Western and Afghan negotiators an “address” where open and official contact can be made with Taliban intermediaries. U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall explains that, “We support an Afghan-led reconciliation process in which the Taliban breaks with al Qaeda, renounces violence and accepts the Afghan constitution, especially protections for minorities and women.” The State Department also emphasized that the Taliban must recognize the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai and respect the constitutional call for elections as well.
While negotiations may make America’s anticipated 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan easier by fashioning a critical preliminary stabilization within the country, it would be unwise to assume these steps will result in a ceasefire and productive negotiation. On the day the Taliban issued their announcement of a liaison office in Qatar, two suicide bombers killed around 15 people in the city of Kandahar. That is not a good signal for the future.