x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Taliban in 'trust-building' process with US in Qatar

Taliban negotiators have begun holding preliminary talks with US officials in Qatar on plans for peace negotiations aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan

KABUL // Taliban negotiators have begun holding preliminary talks with US officials in Qatar on plans for peace negotiations aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan, a former Taliban official said yesterday.

"The actual peace talks have not yet begun - they are in the process of trust-building and obviously this will take some time," Mawlavi Qalamuddin said.

Mr Qalamuddin, who once led the Taliban's religious police when they were in power, is now a member of the High Peace Council appointed by the government of President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban, ousted from power by a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks, announced earlier this month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of talks with Washington.

Mr Qalamuddin said the delegation already in the Gulf state included Mohammad Tayeb Agha, a close ally and secretary of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and Shahabuddin Delawar, the Taliban's former ambassador to Riyadh.

With them were Sher Mohammad Abaas Stanikzai, the former deputy foreign minister in the Taliban government, and Aziz-Ul Rahman, a former Taliban diplomat in Dubai, said Mr Qalamuddin.

"At the moment, the delegation is holding preliminary talks. It's in its very early phases. You need to build some trust before starting talks."

One of the trust-building measures demanded by the Taliban is the release of five of its members from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while Washington wants the insurgents to renounce violence.

Mr Qalamuddin said the Taliban delegation "obviously" went to Qatar from Pakistan, indicating that Afghanistan's southern neighbour - accused by Kabul of blocking past attempts at peace talks - could be getting on board.

Another sign of a thaw between the two countries came with the announcement yesterday that the Pakistani Foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, will visit Kabul on Wednesday.

The Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, Janan Mosazai, said the visit would mark a "new phase" in cooperation between the two countries, adding that Mr Khar would hold talks with the Afghan foreign minister, Zulmai Rasoul, and President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Khar's visit comes after Pakistan made overtures to Afghanistan to resume talks over the Taliban which broke down following the assassination of Kabul's chief peace envoy, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September, officials said.

Mr Karzai accused Pakistan of responsibility for the murder and last month said Islamabad was sabotaging all attempts at negotiations with the Taliban.

The president was initially wary of being sidelined in the Qatar talks, and Washington dispatched its special envoy, Marc Grossman, to Kabul last week to assure him of a central role for his government in any major negotiations.