“Dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and get rid of war and the violence imposed upon suffering Afghan people,” the statement said.
Karzai’s approval of an office for the militant group in Doha was seen as vital to the prospects of the peace talks, for which the Obama administration has expressed high hopes. In the past, the Afghan president has felt slighted during U.S.-led attempts to hold exploratory talks with Taliban envoys.
The Taliban on Tuesday for the first time publicly expressed interest in negotiating with Washington, outlining a vision for talks with U.S. officials in Qatar that conspicuously excluded a role for the Afghan government.
The announcement marked a major departure for a militant group that had long said it would not negotiate while foreign troops remained in Afghanistan. It offered a measure of hope that after years of missteps, a U.S.-sought negotiated settlement to the decade-long war is possible. If a Taliban office is established in Qatar, U.S. and Afghan interlocutors would have a formal venue to hold substantive talks with the group’s envoys after months of clandestine contact.
But analysts warned of substantial unknowns and possible pitfalls, including whether Pakistan will back or seek to thwart the effort. In addition, it was feared that the statement’s omission of a role for the Afghan government would anger Karzai, a fear that was at least in part allayed by Wednesday’s presidential statement.
One Taliban motivation for negotiating with Washington involves brokering the release of Taliban leaders detained in the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. An Afghan official suggested Tuesday that the Taliban might use a captured U.S. soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as a bargaining chip.
Analysts say Taliban leaders have also expressed hope that the United States could bring them out of diplomatic isolation by lobbying to have the group’s leaders removed from international terrorist sanctions lists.
The Obama administration has long sought a political breakthrough in a costly war that has lasted more than a decade and is increasingly unpopular. But U.S. officials acknowledge that any peace deal with the Taliban — which would probably allow the group back into Kabul through some sort of power-sharing arrangement — would be fraught with challenges and moral dilemmas.
An Afghan role?
The Taliban statement’s omission of Karzai and his government puts the Obama administration in a difficult position. Even as they have held a half-dozen meetings with insurgent representatives outside Afghanistan over the past year, U.S. officials have continued to insist that “formal” talks would have to be led by the Afghans.