Taliban detainees
Captured Taliban members lay down their weapons in Afghan war. Image: isafmedia/Flickr/CC BY

The Taliban said Tuesday that it is ready to engage in formal peace talks with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. The former ruling body said it would open an office in Qtar to begin negotiations to end the Afghan war.

A place to negotiate from

The opening of an office is a major concession, giving peace negotiators a place to contact and meet with Taliban officials.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement:

“We are at the moment, besides our powerful presence inside the country, ready to establish a political office outside the country to come to an understanding with other nations.”

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. They were driven from power by U.S.-led forces.

Many remain skeptical

This is the first public indication that the Taliban has a desire for serious negotiations. Many, however remain skeptical. It remains to be seen if the group is genuinely interested in negotiating a comprehensive peace settlement or if it merely wants to ensure that NATO leaves the country in 2014 as scheduled. The removal of NATO forces would make it easy for the group to return to power.

Prisoner release

The statement also indicated that the group wants to negotiate for the release of Taliban detainees at the U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Washington says that once negotiations begin earnestly, it will consider transferring the Taliban-connected detainees from Guantanamo Bay to an Afghan location, where their freedom can be negotiated later. Among the releases requested are former Taliban deputy defense minister Muhammad Fazl, former intelligence minister Abdul Haq Wasiq and two former provincial governors.

Negotiators cautiously positive

For years, American officials have maintained that any lasting solution in Afghanistan will have to be political and not military. While negotiators remain skeptical about the group’s sincerity, the move is seen as necessary for any positive momentum toward peace in the nation.

Gavin Sundwall, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said:

“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.”

Sources

New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/world/asia/taliban-to-open-qatar-office-in-step-toward-peace-talks.html
CNN http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/03/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-talks/index.html?hpt=hp_t2
Newsday http://www.newsday.com/news/taliban-to-open-qatar-office-for-peace-talks-1.3424633

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