Possible peace talks with Taliban top agenda of Karzai’s visit to Qatar
KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to visit Qatar to discuss the proposed opening of a Taliban office there as a prelude to possible peace talks, the foreign ministry said Sunday.
Until earlier this year, Karzai rejected the idea of a Taliban office in Qatar because of fears that his government would be frozen out of any deal between the United States and the militants.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate directly with Karzai, and the foreign ministry stressed that it would only start negotiations if the militants "break all relations with Al-Qaeda and give up terrorism".
"President Hamid Karzai will visit Qatar within weeks," Janan Mosazai, foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters.
"Talks with the emir of Qatar will include the peace process in Afghanistan and the opening of a Taliban office."
The Islamist militants broke off tentative contacts with the US in Qatar in March last year after the failure of attempts to negotiate a prisoner exchange as a confidence-building measure.
International troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, leaving local soldiers and police to battle the Taliban, who were ousted from power in Kabul by a US-led invasion in 2001.
There is a pressing need for a political settlement to end violence raging across the south and east, with Karzai due to stand down at elections in April next year and all foreign combat soldiers exiting by the end of 2014.
The foreign ministry said future talks in the Qatari capital Doha would be led by the Afghan High Peace Council, even though the Taliban have rejected the council as a Karzai-appointed body.
The president has often called the Taliban "brothers" in a gesture to promote reconciliation, but he also accuses them of holding secret talks with the US at the same time as they launch suicide attacks that kill civilians.
Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan's 1996-2001 Taliban regime and is seen as crucial to peace after foreign troops depart, has pledged its support for an office in Doha to promote peace.