Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that if security concerns make it impossible to set up a Taliban political office in Afghanistan, then it should be established in another Islamic country, like Saudi Arabia, or in Turkey. If the Taliban opened an office, it would be seen as a willingness to talk peace and signal their intention to try to find a nonviolent solution to an insurgency that has cost the lives of thousands.
Karzai's comments came one day after an Indian newspaper reported that plans were being finalized for a Taliban office in the Gulf state of Qatar.
The president met with top Afghan leaders at the palace on Thursday to discuss efforts to reconcile with the Taliban and find a political solution to the decade-long war. The leaders agreed that fighting should stop before any negotiations begin, Karzai's office said in a statement.
The newspaper report, quoting unnamed Indian diplomatic sources, said that Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, was among those being considered to head the office.
Zaeef, an ex-Taliban, told The Associated Press that he had not heard that plans for a Taliban office in Qatar or that he was being considered to head it. "I'm not aware of that," Zaeef said.
A top member of the Afghanistan peace council, ex-Taliban official Arsala Rahmani, said he was also unaware that such an office was about to open.
Rahmani said the peace council, a group of about 70 influential Afghans and former Taliban appointed by Karzai to try to reconcile with the insurgents, was busy trying to find a new leader.
The former head of the council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated on Sept. 20. Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.
After Rabbani's death, Karzai said informal peace efforts with unknown insurgents, who claim to want peace and then carry out suicide bombings, would not resume. Instead, he said, the Taliban had to establish an official address. At that time he called on Pakistan, where insurgent leaders are said to be based, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
At the same time, Karzai says that any peace talks should be led by Afghanistan and that interference from other nations would not be tolerated.
Karzai's statement, which did not mention Qatar, said that those attending the palace meeting agreed that any Taliban office should be established inside Afghanistan.
"If, for the time being, the current situation does not make that possible, then it should be set up in an Islamic country, Saudi Arabia or Turkey," the statement said.
After the report in the newspaper, The Hindu, the Afghan government recalled its ambassador from Qatar for consultations.
An Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, said recalling the ambassador was related to discussions about establishing an address for the Taliban to facilitate a peace process.
The Qataris have not kept Afghan officials engaged in the effort and did not consult with the Afghan government, the official said. He said the Afghan government had been kept appraised through its American and German partners.
The Afghan government would support the establishment of an official address for the Taliban only as a step to facilitate the peace process, not as any kind of a concession, the official said.