U.S. officials have confirmed that the Taliban plans to open a political office in Doha, Qatar, for direct negotiations with the United States and the Afghan government. This comes just hours after after Afghan President Hamid Karzai shook hands with NATO's secretary-general in a ceremony returning day-to-day security responsibilities to Kabul.
The peace talks will begin in a matter of days, according to a senior administration official. Encouraging the Taliban to distance itself from al-Qaida and from international terrorism will be among the West's key goals. While the United States will play a facilitating role in the talks, negotiators from the Afghan High Peace Council will be taking the lead. The Taliban is expected to announce its new office later today.
The road to talks was established as early as March, when Karzai traveled to Qatar and reportedly discussed the possibility of hosting discussions there with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar. But U.S. officials said this was the culmination of years of diplomatic work.
This isn't the first time Doha has been floated as a site for peace negotiations. Efforts to start talks have moved slowly. Senior U.S. officials Tuesday warned to expect the same this time, citing mutual distrust between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The first exchange isn't likely to produce much beyond a swapping of agendas.