peace negotiators will also travel to Qatar for talks, according to
President Hamid Karzai, speaking as Nato officially transferred authority to
Afghan national forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
But the challenges ahead were further underlined by a suicide attack only a
few miles from where Mr Karzai was speaking.The Taliban has repeatedly
refused to meet Afghan peace envoys.
After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations however, including some in
Norway according to Espen Barth Eide, the country’s foreign minister, the
movement has now agreed to open the Doha office to facilitate talks.
“The office is to open dialogue between the Taliban and the world,” Taliban
spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, although he made no reference to peace
talks or the Afghan government. “The Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan [the
group’s formal name] doesn’t want any threats from Afghanistan soil to other
countries, and neither permits anyone to threaten other countries using
“We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan’s
occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security.”
None of the parties are expecting any imminent breakthrough, but US officials
described the opening of negotiations with the Taliban as an “important
development” on the road to reconciliation.
They were at pains to be realistic about the road ahead, conceding that levels
of trust between parties were “extremely low”.
Officials said the first meeting would simply be an “exchange of agendas” in
which both sides laid out what issues they wanted to address. It could be
followed by a second meeting in coming weeks.
Recalling the Northern Ireland peace process took years to complete, senior
Obama administration officials said the Taliban office was “the first step
on what – if it is successful – will be a very long road”, adding that there
was “no guarantee that this process will happen quickly, if at all.”
One official significantly added that a requirement for the Taliban to drop
relations with al Qaeda – something which had stymied previous attempts at
direct talks – was no longer necessary in order for them to progress.
“We’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that
distances themselves from the movement from international terrorism, but
made clear that we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al
Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” the official
President Barack Obama, speaking at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, called
the opening of the Taliban’s political office an important step toward
reconciliation between the group and the Afghan government, although he
predicted the road ahead will be long and complicated.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, gave his backing to the talks.
“We need to match the security response in Afghanistan … with a political
process to try to make sure as many people as possible give up violence,
give up an armed struggle and join the political process,” he said. “It’s
the right thing to do – of course it involves all sorts of difficulties.”
Graeme Smith, of the International Crisis Group, said members of the High
Peace Council themselves do not expect much progress.
“The main forces that were killing a lot of insurgents in recent years are
leaving,” he said. “The insurgents don’t have a whole load of incentive to
negotiate until they find out where the military balance lies after the
Speaking at a heavily defended army academy just outside Kabul, Mr Karzai told
Nato officials that the handover would help cement support for the Afghan
“From tomorrow, our security and defence forces will now be in the lead,” he
said. “From here, all security responsibility and all security leadership
will be taken by our brave forces.”
Some 97,000 international troops remain in the country. From now until the end
of next year their role will be largely to train and advise local forces.
The transfer of the last 95 districts from Nato to Afghan control include some
of the areas still affected by Taliban attacks, including Kandahar — the
spiritual home of the movement — and territories that border Pakistan.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary-general, was in Kabul for the handover.
He said the coalition will help militarily if and when needed but will no
longer plan, execute or lead operations.
“Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces. Five years ago,
Afghan forces were a fraction of what they are today,” he said.
“Now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police. A formidable force. And time
and again, we have seen them dealing quickly and competently with complex
attacks. Defeating the enemies of Afghanistan, and defending and protecting
the Afghan people.”