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US to hold direct peace talks with Taliban

The US will engage in direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar next week, aimed at achieving peace in Afghanistan, senior White House officials have said.Tuesday’s announcement came as the Taliban opened a political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, to help start talks on ending the 12-year-old conflict, saying it wanted a political solution that would bring about a just government and end foreign occupation.

 
Mohammad Sohail Shaheen said the attacks will continue

Mohammad Sohail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman and a member of the Doha political office, told Al Jazeera the armed group will continue to attack US targets in Afghanistan, but will simultaneously seek to end the conflict by pursuing peace talks.

He said there was no ceasefire with the US and its allies and that the Taliban “simultaneously follows political and military options”.

“There is no ceasefire [with the US] now. They are attacking us and we are attacking them,” Shaheen said.
 
Late on Tuesday, fighters attacked the Bagram Air Base west of Kabul, killing four US soldiers.
 
During the formal handover of responsibility earlier in the day, a deadly blast in the west of Kabul targeting a prominent ethnic Hazara lawmaker, killed three and injured at least 30.

US President Barack Obama said the opening of the Taliban office was an important first step towards reconciliation between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government.

He cautioned, however, that the process would be lengthy and insisted that the Taliban break ties with al-Qaeda and end violence.

Secret discussions

A senior representative of the Afghan government confirmed that talks were scheduled with the Taliban and said the progress was made after secret discussions with the group.

 
Jane Ferguson reports on the formal handover

“Peace talks will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council,” the official said, referring to the body created by Karzai in 2010 to negotiate peace with the group.

The Taliban has until now said it would not countenance peace talks with the Karzai government, which it calls a “stooge” of the US and other Western nations.

 The peace talks, if they go ahead, could also lead to a reduction in fighting across Afghanistan, the official said.

“We hope that the attacks carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan will reduce while we talk peace; there is no point in talking if the bombs continue to kill civilians,” he said.

But in what could  anger the Afghan government, the white Taliban flag was visible at Shaheen’s side during Tuesday’s ceremony in Doha, and a large sign behind him proclaimed the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, the name the Taliban used during their brief national rule in the 1990s.

Both events may have been timed to coincide with a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the beginning of the final phase of security transition from the US-led coalition to the Afghan state.

Concern in Kabul

Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Kabul, said that many people were saying they would resist what they percieved as the rise in power of the Taliban.

From the perspective of one neighbourhood in Herat

“The people here in Kabul are extremely concerned about the developments in Doha today,” she said.

“What people here are asking is: What about the other objectives that were sold to Afghans in 2001 such as women’s rights, universal human rights, democracy? Are those objectives to be sacrificed for the sake of a quick American withdrawal?

“If the Taliban were to have widespread political influence here, does that mean a lot of the things that the Americans have worked for over the past 12 years could be lost?”

 

 
 Source: Al Jazeera

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