US envoys will launch talks this week with the Taliban, officials announced on Tuesday, in a tentative first step towards finding a negotiated escape from the 12-year-old Afghan war.
The opportunity to open a dialogue came as the Islamist militia opened a political office in the Qatari capital Doha to act as an embassy to its foes in Washington and President Hamid Karzai’s Afghan administration.
It also coincided with NATO’s formal transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to Karzai’s forces. The US-led international combat mission is due to wind down next year, with Afghanistan still in the grip of fighting.
The Taliban had broken off contact with the Americans last year and has refused to negotiate with Kabul, but spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP the office was intended “to open dialogue between the Taliban and the world”.
The Taliban, which was driven from power in Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 by US-backed rebels, has since mounted a guerrilla war against the new government and maintains rear bases in Pakistan.
In opening its mission, the Taliban did not explicitly renounce Al-Qaeda, which prior to 9/11 and the US intervention had bases in Afghanistan, but it did vow not to allow attacks to be launched from Afghan soil.
This proved a sufficient first step for US officials, and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that an eventual disavowal of Al-Qaeda ties by the Taliban was only an “end goal of the process.”
Psaki could not say when the meeting would take place, but said Ambassador James Dobbins, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, would leave Washington later Tuesday bound for Doha via Ankara.
That is just too scary! So we DO negotiate with terrorists?