Taliban says it will open Qatar office

Jan. 3, 2012 at 5:48 PM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The Taliban said Tuesday it will open a political office in Qatar, an indication it may take part in formal talks with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

"We are at the moment, besides our powerful presence inside the country [Afghanistan], ready to establish a political office outside the country to come to an understanding with other nations," the Taliban said in a statement, The New York Times reported.

The statement pointed to "an initial agreement with Qatar and other related sides."

The move marks a departure for the Taliban, which had long denied willingness to consider talks about its insurgency.

Some observers say the office, supported by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, could be a critical step in ending the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, the BBC reported.

But the Times said it's unclear whether the Taliban wants to move toward a major peace agreement or simply hopes to ensure NATO ends Afghanistan operations as scheduled in 2014, which would remove a major obstacle to the Taliban returning to power in some or all of the country.

In the statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid also said the group was seeking the release of Taliban detainees held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But Mujahid didn't provide specifics about the prisoners the group wants freed or say when the Qatar office would open.

U.S. officials have said recently the opening of a Taliban office would be a major step toward peace efforts, and the Qatar office would give Afghan and Western peace negotiators a place to have open contact with Taliban intermediaries, the Times said.

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