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The opening of a Taliban office in Doha would give Qatar a small but crucial role in the Afghan peace process. The news of Qatar hosting a Taliban office has been doing the rounds for some time, but the official confirmation from the Qatari authorities came on Monday when a Foreign Ministry official welcomed the move, and follows talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US President Barack Obama held in Washington recently.
Unlike the reconciliation efforts undertaken by Qatar in several conflict areas, the Afghan peace process is riddled with complications. Karzai and Obama have been struggling hard to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table but the latter have proved to be untamable and unpredictable, and if all sides are still persisting, it’s because of the havoc the militant group can unleash in Afghanistan once the US troops exit by the end of 2014.
The opening of Taliban office can help the peace process in several ways and marks a new chapter in Qatar’s peace diplomacy. Holding the negotiations in a perfectly peaceful setting in Doha, which is strategically located too, compared to the boom of guns and the thunder of bomb blasts in Kabul, would certainly give a fillip to the negotiation process. Qatar can use its rich experience in peace-making to prod the two sides to move on when talks stall or face hurdles.
Addressing media persons yesterday, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani said Qatar was happy to aid the peace process in Afghanistan and looked forward to playing a role. The fact that Taliban have agreed to the plan shows their trust in Qatar and belief in its influence to smoothen the process. Doha would be the centre of global media attention as the peace-making takes off.
The Doha office is just one of a series of gestures meant to inject momentum to the reconciliation efforts. Washington is likely to transfer to Qatar Taliban detainees from the US military’s Guantanamo Bay Prison. The transfer can help build confidence and once it happens, Qatar will be taking a major responsibility.
As the US works out the logistics of exiting Afghanistan by 2014, there is huge concern about the future of the country due to fears that the Afghan troops are ill-equipped to face the challenges from the Taliban. At the same time, faced with a mounting death toll and war bill, Obama is in a tearing hurry to pull out his troops even before fulfilling the objectives which George Bush had set out when he started the invasion. •