US-Taliban breakthrough: Talks to begin in Doha tomorrow

KABUL: The Taliban and the US announced on Tuesday that they would hold talks on finding a political solution for ending nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan as the militant movement opened an office in Qatar.

A senior US official said the talks would start in Doha on Thursday.

But President Barack Obama cautioned that the process won’t be quick or easy. He described the opening of the Taliban political office as an “important first step towards reconciliation” between the group and the government of Afghanistan, and predicted there would be bumps along the way.

President Obama, who was attending the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland, praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for taking a courageous step by sending representatives to discuss peace with the Taliban.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called opening the office “the right thing to do”.

US officials said the process could take many years and be subject to reversals.

They said they hoped the meeting would open the way for the first official peace talks between the government of President Karzai and the Taliban.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, said the only way to end the war was through a political solution.

The Taliban have for years refused to speak to the government or the High Peace Council set up by President Karzai three years ago, because they considered them to be US ‘puppets’.

Taliban representatives have instead talked to American and other Western officials in Doha and other places, mostly in Europe.

Officials said President Obama was personally involved in working with Mr Karzai to enable the opening of the office and Mr Kerry had also played a major role.

President Obama briefed other leaders at the summit meeting about the development.

James Dobbins, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was scheduled to leave Washington on Tuesday to visit Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan, focusing primarily on “reconciliation efforts”, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Recalling Pakistan’s role in the establishment of office, a statement issued by the Foreign Office said it had “played a constructive and positive role in helping accomplish this important milestone in support of a peace process for Afghanistan”.

It said Pakistan was committed to continuing to facilitate the process for the sake of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

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