Friday 15 December 2017

Taliban peace talks on cards after Bagram prisoner deal

Rob Crilly Islamabad

The prospect of talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government moved closer yesterday after a fence-mending visit by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, to Kabul.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said he was prepared to embrace a talks process with the Taliban when he visits the Gulf state of Qatar for discussions with its emir on hosting the negotiations.

Addressing a joint press conference, Mr Kerry said there was a growing understanding between the two countries on the talks. He said: "I am confident (Karzai) does not believe the US has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace. So we're on the same page. I don't think there is any disagreement between us."

Mr Karzai said his visit to Qatar within "a few days" would include discussions on the opening of a Taliban political office, possibly as a prelude to talks.

Mr Karzai said: "Afghanistan will do its utmost to see that . . . the opening of the office in Qatar for the Taliban movement will end in the benefit of the peace process, a strengthening of the national unity in Afghanistan, security and a lasting peace in our country."

A US official welcomed the planned trip, saying: "I wouldn't want to overplay it but I think that it's a very positive sign."

Hours before America's top diplomat touched down in Afghanistan, the US military sought to bolster Mr Karzai's negotiating leverage with the insurgents by transferring "all but a small number" of prisoners held at Bagram prison to local security forces.

The transfer had been cancelled at the last minute two weeks ago amid American concerns that prisoners would be released to rejoin the Taliban and al-Qai'da. American officials had feared the Afghans were too willing to release prisoners without extracting concessions from the enemy.

The prison, which came to be seen as emblematic of America's power in Afghanistan, carries a huge amount of symbolism.

At the centre of prisoner abuse allegations, it has been a long-running source of tension and became a central pillar of Mr Karzai's struggle to regain control of key matters before the US withdraws combat troops next year. A deal to hand the prison over to local security forces was finally brokered on Saturday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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