Afghan peace council to gather details on Taliban setting up an office in Qatar

The High Peace Council's adviser says they want to see the office with their own eyes.

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KABUL // A senior member of Afghanistan's peace-making body will travel to Qatar soon to gather details about plans for a Taliban political office in the Gulf nation, the High Peace Council's adviser on international affairs said yesterday.

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week that they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up an office in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay.

"We want to see the office with our own eyes and that's why someone from the High Peace Council will be travelling to Qatar soon," said Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a leading member of President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council.

"We want to see how big the office is and other details."

The decision to open an office, after years of insisting the group would consider talks only when foreign troops had left Afghanistan, is seen as a crucial step forward for attempts to reach a negotiated end to more than a decade of war.

But the announcement excluded the Afghan government, describing the two parties to the conflict as the Taliban and the US-led coalition. Mr Karzai's response was slow and muted.

Mr Karzai and US officials have said repeatedly that any peace process must be Afghan-led and the president has been angered in the past when he felt excluded by foreign efforts to set up any kind of negotiations.

"Any talks without the participation of Afghanistan are not going to succeed," Mr Qasimyar said.

Afghan officials have also warned against allowing the Taliban to use the office to fundraise.