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‘A Taliban office in Doha could answer the Afghan question’

The Taliban announced Wednesday that they will open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar to hold peace talks with the USA. French academic Mathieu Guidere says the unprecedented step could be the key to ending the 10-year war in Afghanistan.


After ten years of armed conflict with NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban announced on Tuesday that they were ready to open an office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar in order to initiate peace talks.

On Tuesday, January 3, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed five people, including four children, in their former stronghold of Kandahar (south Afghanistan).

"We're now prepared, while having a strong presence inside (Afghanistan), to have a political office outside (Afghanistan) for negotiations," the radical Islamist group indicated in a statement on their purported website "Voice of Jihad".

International coalition troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan last year, but around 130,000 soldiers and other personnel remain in the war-ravaged country. Complete troop withdrawal is planned for late 2014.

For Mathieu Guidere, a professor at the University of Toulouse-II and an expert on the Arab-Muslim world, the new Taliban office could be a first step towards resolving the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

FRANCE 24: Why have the Taliban decided to open a political office abroad now?

Mathieu Guidere: The Taliban are reintegrating with the mainstream Afghan political scene because of the current favorable environment. Firstly, Westerners have understood, after ten years of war, that there will be no lasting peace in Afghanistan without the Taliban. Secondly, the Arab Springs have changed the political landscape and allowed Islamist parties to come to power in the Muslim world.

The favorable environment also has to do with the start of negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, which began three months ago with the help of Germany and Qatar. To set up an official office abroad, the Taliban will have to agree to three conditions: ending attacks against civilian populations [see insert above], breaking ties with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and respecting the Afghan constitution.

Besides this initial agreement, there are other practical issues to tackle before starting negotiations. The Taliban have demanded the release of prisoners from US military prison in Guantanamo and compensation for families of victims of attacks by coalition forces.

F24: The Taliban office is supposed to be based in Qatar, although Turkey and Saudi Arabia were discussed as possible locations in the past. Why was Qatar picked?

M.G.: Qatar has been picked because the state played an important role in the success of the original meeting between the Taliban and the United States. During the past several years, the government in Doha has built up its role as a diplomatic mediator and achieved results, as the agreement between Khartoum [Sudan] and South Sudan recently showed. Qatar wants to become an alternative to Saudi Arabia when it comes to mediation in Islamic countries.

F24: Should we see this initiative as a positive step toward peace in Afghanistan, even if the government in Kabul is still not involved in the negotiations?

M.G.: I think it's a very positive step towards ending the conflict. No local solution has been found, so moving the negotiations outside the country could help answer the Afghan question.

It’s true, Kabul has not been involved in the early negotiations, but the High Council for Peace in Afghanistan, a body composed of intellectuals and notables recognized by the government, gave its approval by setting down the same conditions as Western governments.

Guidere is the author of Le Choc des révolutions arabes (Clash of the Arab revolutions), Editions Autrement, 2011

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