Taliban set preconditions for peace talks

Kabul, January 24

The Afghan Taliban today reiterated their pre-conditions for the resumption of peace talks with Kabul, including their removal from international terror blacklists, at an informal meeting with lawmakers and activists in Doha.

Members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar launched two days of discussion with an Afghan delegation yesterday as momentum grows for the start of a formal peace process.

The militant group emphasised its hardline stance on talks aimed at ending their 14-year insurgency, ruling out negotiations until their preconditions were met.

“Before any official talks, we want names of our mujahideen to be removed from UN and US blacklists and all bounties on their heads be cancelled,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, listing the group’s demands at the Qatar conference.”We also want our political office in Doha to be officially re-opened.”

The Taliban opened an office in Qatar in June 2013 as a first move towards a possible peace deal. But it shut a month later after enraging the then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai by styling itself as the unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile.

Afghan government officials are not attending the meeting in the Gulf emirate, which is organised by Pugwash Conferences, an international group that promotes conflict resolution.

But it marks a rare direct interaction between the Taliban and Afghan lawmakers and civil society members amid an international push to revive talks.

The meeting comes after delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in Kabul last Monday for a second round of talks seeking a negotiated end to the insurgency.

The first round of the so-called “roadmap” talks was held in Islamabad earlier this month in a bid to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group. Taliban representatives were notably absent in both rounds and analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off. Despite the push to restart talks, the Taliban have ramped up violence across Afghanistan.