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A Taliban office abroad

December 27, 2011

With Taliban set to open an office in Doha, the Qatari capital, Afghanistan's High Peace Council has set out the ground rules for engaging the Taliban.

members of the Taliban in Helmand province, Afghanistan
Engaging the Taliban is the key to political settlementImage: Elham Rohullah

In an 11-point note sent to foreign missions, the Council has said that Afghanistan is ready to accept a Taliban office in Qatar to help the peace talks, but that no foreign power can get involved in the process without Kabul's consent.

Not that Doha would have been the government's first choice. While opening the Taliban office in Doha is being seen - both by the West and by Kabul - as a way of creating distance from Pakistan, Afghan officials have been quoted by Reuters as saying that the government would have preferred Saudi Arabia or Turkey, being close to both the governments.

UN office in Kandahar after a Taliban commando attack in October, 2011
International forces in Afghanistan have become a target of violenceImage: DW

Kabul's ire

The US and Qatar, helped by Germany, engaged in negotiations with the Taliban over setting up an office in Doha, keeping President Hamid Karzai's administration in the dark. Kabul reacted angrily and also recalled its ambassador from Doha last week. Further reports that the United States was considering transferring a small number of Afghan prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison to Doha as a preliminary to any peace talks of the future have not done much to assuage Kabul's ire either. "We are a sovereign country, we have laws. How can you transfer our prisoners from one country to another? Already it's a violation to have them in Guantanamo Bay," as one official told Reuters.

Now Kabul seems to have accepted Doha as the possible location for a Taliban office, but not without stipulating further that the Taliban would have to stop violence against civilians, cut its ties with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution, which guarantees civil rights and liberties including rights for women.

The assertion of independence

Nevertheless, the search for a political settlement in Afghanistan seems to be becoming less nebulous, even as the Kabul government takes the first concrete and visible steps to assert its economic independence.

Flag of China juxtaposed with the picture of an Iranian gas field
Kabul is signing new deals with China and IranImage: AP / DW-Fotomontage

Afghanistan signed a deal with Iran on Tuesday in which Iran pledges to supply its neighbour with a million tons of fuel oil, petrol and aviation oil a year. The deal would still be subject to Western sanctions against Iran.

Afghanistan is also poised to sign a deal with China's state-owned National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) on Wednesday, making it the first foreign firm to win a concession to produce oil in the country. The CNPC will work on two oil blocks in the Amu Drya river basin.

Author: Arun Chowdhury (Reuters, AFP, AP)
Editor: Sarah Berning