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Taliban willing to hold peace talks with Afghan govt, US officials.

PESHAWAR, July 2 -- The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday formally announced that they were willing to hold peace talks with the Afghan government and US officials to find a negotiated settlement to the 12-year long Afghan conflict.

Senior Afghan Taliban officials said a 12-member delegation, comprising representatives of different militant factions, had already landed in Doha, the capital of Qatar and they could probably meet the US delegation next week.

"This will be our first-ever meeting with the Afghan government in Qatar," a senior Taliban leader said. Besides other militant groups, the Taliban sources said the powerful Haqqani network, headed by Commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, has also sent their representatives to Qatar for participating in the talks.

It is the Haqqani network which has been holding hostage US soldier Bowe Bergdahl since June 2009. The network fighters had captured him in Afghanistan's Paktika province, the border area with Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.

In Qatar, the Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem in his televised speech also announced to hold peace negotiations with the Afghan government and US.He said that their political and military goals would be limited to Afghanistan only, saying they would not wish to harm other countries.

Pleading anonymity, senior Afghan Taliban said the office in Qatar was opened on January 3, 2012, but it was first time they would meet representatives of the Afghan government. "Everybody knows our people have been living in Qatar along with families for the past two years but the Karzai administration for first time recognised the legal status of this office," a senior Taliban commander said.

He said the Kabul administration was reluctant to accept legal status of their Qatar office but had to change its harsh stance under pressure from the west and some Islamic countries.He said the Taliban delegation, headed by Tayyab Agha, brother-in-law and spokesman for Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, had held several rounds of talks with US delegation in the past two years but there was no breakthrough.

Besides Tayyab Agha, Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, a former envoy of Taliban regime in Saudi Arabia, and other prominent militant commanders are also part of the Taliban delegation in Qatar.

"Though there are some internal differences among the Taliban, all the groups are in favour of talks as they had exhausted of fighting," a Taliban commander operating in Afghanistan's Kunar province said.

According to Taliban sources, talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States had failed last year in Qatar, when the two sides remained stuck to their hard conditions during initial rounds of the talks.

The Taliban said their talks with the Americans last time were only for exchange of prisoners but the US officials started asking them to announce ceasefire before prisoners' swap.In the meeting, which they hoped may take place next week, they would talk prisoners' swap, especially for their five top commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay base since 2002.

The Taliban wanted to get back their five prisoners including Mulla Fazal Akhund, Noorullah Noori, Abdul Haq Waseeq, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammad Nabi in exchange of US soldier.

According to Taliban sources Mulla Fazal Akhund, who belongs to the Kakar tribe and is from Derawad in the central Urozgan province, was the Taliban army chief at the time of his capture.

Mulla Fazal was reportedly leading his fighters in northern Afghanistan where he surrendered to Uzbek warlord General Abdur Rasheed Dostum on condition that he won't be handed over to the US.

Gen Dostum later handed over him and several hundred other Taliban prisoners to the US reportedly after taking money from the Americans.Noorullah Noori, who hails from Ghazni province, was the governor of Balkh province, while Khairullah Khairkhwa served as Afghanistan's interior minister during the Taliban rule and also remained the governor of Herat province.

He belongs to Spin Boldak village in Kandahar province sited near the Pakistani border town of Chaman. Abdul Haq Waseeq was the deputy Taliban intelligence chief when he was captured. He belongs to Paktia province. Similarly, Mohammad Nabi was an important military commander when the Taliban were in power.

The Taliban said they had the same stance and will announce ceasefire once when all the foreign forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.Taliban sources said Afghan foreign minister had visited Qatar a few days ago but returned home without having a meeting with the Taliban delegation. "The Taliban and Americans wanted Pakistan should be included in talks while the Afghan government opposed Pakistan's participation. Similarly, the Afghan foreign minister did not want the Taliban office in Qatar should not has a legal status to develop contacts with international community," the Taliban leader said.

Similarly, the Taliban claimed the Afghan government wanted the talks should be held either in UAE or in Saudi Arabia instead of Qatar, but the Taliban leader Mulla Omar was in favour of Qatar.

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Publication:South Asian Journal (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jul 2, 2013
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