US and Taliban begin peace talks after 10 years' fighting
AMERICA will engage in its first formal direct talks with the Taliban tomorrow, according to US officials, in a milestone on the road to peace after more than a decade of war.
The first meeting will take place in Doha, the Qatari capital, after the Taliban opened its first official overseas office and Washington dropped its long-standing demand that the movement renounce ties with al-Qa'ida.
"The US will have its first formal meeting with the Taliban, and indeed first meeting with the Taliban for several years, in a couple of days in Doha," a senior official from the Obama administration said.
Afghan peace negotiators will also travel to Qatar for talks, according to President Hamid Karzai, as NATO officially transferred authority to Afghan national forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
The challenges ahead were underlined by a suicide attack only a few miles from where Mr Karzai was speaking. The Taliban has repeatedly refused to meet Afghan peace envoys.
After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, including some in Norway, according to Espen Barth Eide, the country's foreign minister, the movement has agreed to open the Doha office to facilitate talks.
"The office is to open dialogue between the Taliban and the world," said Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, although he made no reference to peace talks or the Afghan government. "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the group's formal name) doesn't want any threats from Afghanistan soil to other countries, and neither permits anyone to threaten other countries using Afghanistan soil.
"We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan's occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security."
None of the parties is expecting any imminent breakthrough, but US officials described the opening of negotiations with the Taliban as an "important development" on the road to reconciliation.
They were at pains to be realistic, conceding that levels of trust between parties were "extremely low". (© Daily Telegraph, London)