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US, Afghan govt to hold peace talks with Taliban

Last updated on: June 18, 2013 21:44 IST

In a major breakthrough, the Taliban on Tuesday announced the opening of its office in Doha, which would hold peace talks with the Afghan government and separate direct parleys with US that could boost Afghan reconciliation process after 12 years of war.

The Obama administration, however, adopted a cautious approach, given its bitter past experience and well aware of the tough negotiations and the "long road" that lies ahead, and termed it as a "significant first step" in the overall goal of achieving peace in the war-torn country.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, senior administration officials appreciated the "constructive" role played by Pakistan in bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table, noting that over the years Islamabad has realised that peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan is in their national interest.

The US would have first talks with the Taliban within the next couple of days, and this to be followed by the one between the Taliban and the High Peace Council, officials said.

While there has been no transfer of Gitmo detainees, which was one of the conditions, set earlier by the Taliban for the peace talks, senior administration officials insisted that the outcome of talks should be that Taliban agrees to shed its relationship with Al Qaeda, stop violence and agree with the Afghan constitution.

"Today is an important first step in the peace process," a senior Administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to the press efore the release of a Taliban statement in Doha stating that they oppose the use of Afghan soil that threaten other countries and that they support the Afghan peace process.

This is an indicator that "we are moving in the right direction" the senior administration official said, but noted that given the "low level of trust" among Afghans themselves, they are a bit cautious and are well aware of the tough days ahead.

"There is no guarantee that it would happen quickly. The core of these talks is not going to be US Taliban talks, but the core of this is going to be direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghans.

The level of trust on both sides is extremely low as one would expect. It is going to be a long hard process, if indeed it advances significantly," the official said, adding that this is the beginning of a difficult road.

"I would not be looking for early results," another official said.

"We welcome them," another senior administration official said referring to the announcement of the opening of the Taliban political office in Doha to hold peace talks with the Afghan government.

At the same time the official said after 30 years of civil war in Afghanistan, they expect this peace process to be complex long and messy, but nonetheless this is an important first step.

"The outcome of the process, must be the Taliban and other insurgent groups meet three conditions, first they break ties with Al Qaeda, they end the violence and accept the Afghanistan constitution, including protection of women and minorities," the senior administration official said.

Further recognising that the opening of the Taliban office in Doha is the first significant milestone towards peace, the United States called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin direct negotiations soon.

The US, the official said, would continue to support these critical efforts.

Officials, insisted that there has been no change in its core goal in Afghanistan that is to defeat Al Qaeda, to ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for international terrorism.

"While the peace process is beginning in earnest today with the opening of the Doha office, our troops continue to serve alongside Afghan troops in Afghanistan," he said.

The official said in recent months, the government of Pakistan has been helpful in urging the Taliban to come forward and join the peace process.

"I think, Pakistan has been genuinely supportive of the peace process for Afghanistan. There has been in the past skepticism about it support, but in recent months, we have seen evidence that there is genuine support and they employed their influence they have to encourage to engage in this particular format," the senior administration official said.

"Pakistan leaders have made it clear for several years now that there is no stability in Pakistan, without stability in Afghanistan. So they understand that the security situation in the two countries are linked very tightly.

"So their support (to the peace process) is very much in keeping their own national interest," another senior administration official said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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