Taliban, US Begin Talks in Qatar

Posted January 30th, 2012 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Afghan Taliban negotiators are meeting with U.S. officials in Qatar for a series of discussions aimed at building trust between the two sides ahead of the upcoming peace talks.

Maulavi Qalamuddin, who once led the group's religious police, said Sunday the delegation includes several former officials, as well as a former secretary to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar.

Qalamuddin said the talks include the possible release of Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said the delegation traveled to Qatar from Pakistan – a possible sign that Islamabad might support the peace process.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials said Sunday they will soon open a second front of negotiations with the Taliban, meeting in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to bring an end to the decade-long Afghan war.

In Brussels Monday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will adhere to its plans to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Rasmussen said NATO expects the final transition of provinces and districts to lead Afghan responsibility by mid-2013. He said that, from that time on, the alliance can gradually change the role of its forces from combat to support.

Pakistani officials have declined to comment on the country's role in contacts between the Taliban and the United States. But a Foreign Ministry spokesman has reiterated that Islamabad will continue to make contributions toward achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Also on Sunday, Pakistan said Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar will travel to Afghanistan Wednesday to discuss the war on terror and political reconciliation efforts. Khar is expected to meet with her Pakistani counterpart, Zalmai Rassoul, and make a “courtesy call” on President Hamid Karzai.

U.S. officials have yet to comment on the latest developments.