From the caves of Tora Bora to an office in Qatar: is the Taliban going mainstream?

 

The Afghan Taliban announced yesterday that it had reached a landmark deal to open a political office in Qatar in what could be its first concrete step to sue for peace after a decade of insurgency warfare.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, released a statement stating that a “preliminary deal” had been reached for “negotiations with the international community”. The statement added that it would depend on key commanders being released from US military custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The idea of opening up an office has long been sought by American officials who are desperate to find a political exit strategy for Afghanistan after 10 years of bitter warfare. Secret talks between the Americans, intermediaries and the Taliban have been held for months, but with limited success. Until now, Taliban commanders had been reluctant to ever admit publicly that they might be willing to sit down to peace talks.

Opening up a legitimate political office would allow Taliban commanders to negotiate with America and international diplomats without fear of assassination or arrest. Western officials have also been keen to promote Qatar as a suitable venue because it would take the talks outside the influence of the ISI – Pakistan’s powerful spy agency which has long been suspected of harbouring and nurturing the Taliban’s insurgency.

According to a report in The Hindu newspaper, the influential Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has played a key role in the talks aimed at setting up an office.

Western officials believe prisoner exchanges and ceasefire zones will be an essential part of building up confidence between the two sides. However Washington is determined that the Taliban must abandon any ideological or practical allegiance to Al-Qa’ida.

In return the Taliban will likely seek a significant political role within the southern Pashtun regions of Afghanistan where its insurgency blossomed, as well as the release of its leaders.

Key Taliban officials currently held in Guantanamo include Muhammad Fazl, the Taliban’s former deputy defence minister, Muhammad Nabi, a key financier, and two former provincial governors Khairullah Khairkhwa of Herat and Noorullah Nori of Balkh. The Taliban, meanwhile, is still holding Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old U.S. Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was taken prisoner in June 2009.

Attempts to negotiate with the Taliban have repeatedly hit stumbling blocks. In 2010 British and American intelligence officials were duped by a market stall holder from Quetta who made them believe he was a senior Taliban commander. He then disappeared after pocketing large sums of cash. Former Afghan president Burhannuddin Rabani, who was tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, was killed by a suicide bomber last year whilst Afghan president Hamid Karzai ordered his ambassador to Qatar to be withdrawn late last year when it emerged attempted talks with the Taliban had been taking place. He has since relented under US pressure and signed up to the plan.

It is not yet clear whether hardline Taliban commanders, including its spiritual chief Mullah Omar, would countenance any negotiations with Nato or the Afghan government in Kabul.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power