After 12 years of war, the US and the Taliban have announced that they will seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. The announcement came after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar.
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the negotiations an "important first step toward reconciliation" in Afghanistan, while cautioning that "there would be bumps along the road."
"An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," Obama said, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
"I want to repeat that we don't anticipate this process will be easy or quick, but we must pursue [it] in parallel with our military approach," the US president continued.
The announcement of peace talks coincided with the official transfer of security responsibilities from the NATO-led military coalition to the Afghan government on Tuesday. The international coalition is preparing to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, transitioning to a smaller training and advisory mission.
Some 48 nations currently have around 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with approximately 66,000 from the US. Afghan security forces number around 352,000, up from 40,000 six years ago. But there are concerns about their morale and readiness.
'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan'
Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban opened a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar on Tuesday. The Islamist militia said the office would represent the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in talks with Washington.
"It's good news - we are very pleased with what's taking place," US Secretary of State John Kerry said of the steps taken toward negotiations.
The Taliban met a key US pre-condition for the talks, vowing to not allow attacks to come from Afghan soil. Washington originally drove the Taliban out of Kabul in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. At the time, the Islamist militia refused to comply with an American ultimatum to hand over al Qaeda's top leadership.
The Taliban still has not officially renounced ties with the Sunni terrorist group. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the severing of ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda was an "end goal of the process."
US officials said that the Taliban would also negotiate directly with the Afghan government. But the Taliban said on the Tuesday that they "do not recognize the Afghan government" and "the talks will be with the Americans only in Doha under the patronage of Qatar."
"We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan's occupation and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security," the Taliban said.
slk/av (AP, AFP)