KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will visit Qatar and discuss the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, the foreign ministry said on Sunday, a development that could facilitate Afghanistan's peace process after nearly 12 years of war.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said Karzai will discuss the issue with the ruler of Qatar during an official visit whose stated purpose is the opening of a Qatari embassy in Kabul and trade and business opportunities.
Mosazai did not say when the visit will take place, but it is expected within weeks.
He said talks with the emir of Qatar will also include "the peace process in Afghanistan and the discussion will include the opening of a Taliban office."
Afghanistan has already agreed the Taliban can open an office in the Gulf state if the group breaks all ties with al-Qaida and renounces terrorism. Talks will be led by the High Peace Council, a group of influential Afghans that also includes former Taliban.
"The position of the Afghan government for the Taliban to open an office in Qatar is very clear. They should stop their relations with al-Qaida and terrorists and show their readiness for direct negotiations with the Afghan government," Mosazai said.
Despite Karzai's desire to hold talks with the Taliban, and Qatar's agreement for them to open an office in Doha, the insurgents have not yet accepted the offer.
The Taliban have long refused to speak directly with Karzai or his government, which they view as a puppet of foreign powers. They have said they will negotiate only with the United States, which has in the past held secret talks with them in Qatar. But at Karzai's insistence, the U.S. has since sought to have the insurgents speak directly with the Afghan government.
Taliban representatives have had back-channel discussions and private meetings with representatives from various countries. A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press recently that the Taliban are talking to representatives of more than 30 countries, and indirectly with the United States.
The U.S. has said it supports the opening of a Taliban office in Doha.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the U.N. Security Council that "Afghan-led reconciliation is important for stability — the best way to end conflict and bring peace to Afghanistan and the region."
"We continue to support the opening of an office in Doha, Qatar, to facilitate negotiations between the High Peace Council and the authorized representatives of the Taliban," she said.