Afghan president to visit Qatar over Taliban office opening



KABUL // The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will visit Qatar and discuss the possible opening of a Taliban office in there, the foreign ministry said yesterday.

Mr Karzai will discuss the issue with the ruler of Qatar during an official visit whose stated purpose is the opening of a Qatari Embassy in Kabul and trade and business opportunities.

The visit is expected to take place within weeks.

Talks with the emir of Qatar will also include "the peace process in Afghanistan and the discussion will include the opening of a Taliban office", said Janan Mosazai, the foreign ministry spokesman.

Afghanistan has already agreed the Taliban can open an office in Qatar if the group breaks all ties with Al Qaeda and renounces terrorism. Talks will be led by the High Peace Council, a group of influential Afghans that also includes former Taliban.

"The position of the Afghan government for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar is very clear. They should stop their relations with Al Qaeda and terrorists and show their readiness for direct negotiations with the Afghan government," Mr Mosazai said.

Despite Mr Karzai's desire to hold talks with the Taliban, and Qatar's agreement for it to open an office in Doha, the group has not yet accepted the offer.

The Taliban has long refused to speak directly with Mr Karzai or his government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers. It has said it will negotiate only with the United States, which has in the past held secret talks with them in Qatar. But at Mr Karzai's insistence, the US has since sought to have group speak directly with the Afghan government.

Taliban representatives have had back-channel discussions and private meetings with representatives from various countries. A senior US official said recently that the Taliban is talking with representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the United States.

The US has said it supports the opening of a Taliban office in Doha.

The US ambassador, Susan Rice, told the UN Security Council that "Afghan-led reconciliation is important for stability - the best way to end conflict and bring peace to Afghanistan and the region."

"We continue to support the opening of an office in Doha, Qatar, to facilitate negotiations between the High Peace Council and the authorised representatives of the Taliban," she said.

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