Afghan President Visits Qatar for Taliban Talks

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is in the Qatari capital Doha on a two-day visit, aimed at accelerating possible negotiations with the Taliban, and will discuss establishing a contact office for the Afghan insurgents in the Gulf Arab state, a U.S. ally.

The opening of a political office by the Taliban and pushing the Afghan peace process will be high on Karzai's agenda in talks with Qatari officials, Faiq Wahidi, a spokesman for the Afghan president told Radio Free Europe.

"During this trip, the two sides are expected to discuss the various aspects of the Afghan peace process. We will also talk about establishing a contact office in Qatar for the armed opponents of Afghanistan's government," Wahidi said.

Karzai and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, talked on Sunday, and the meeting was also attended by the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, according to Reuters.

Fearing that his administration would be bypassed by U.S. officials when they negotiate with the Taliban, Karzai had been against the Taliban office in Qatar until recently.

Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, quoted by Agence France-Presse, said, "If we want to have talks to bring peace to Afghanistan, the main side must be the Afghan government's representatives – the High Peace Council, which has members from all the country's ethnic and political backgrounds."

The Taliban insurgents, who were toppled in 2001, have also been against holding direct talks with Karzai, whom they allege is an American puppet.

"The opening of the Taliban office in Qatar is not related to Karzai, it is a matter between the Taliban and the Qatar government," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP. "Our representatives who are already in Qatar won't see or talk to him."

U.S.-led Western troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and the Kabul government has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to the negotiating table before troops withdraw.

Karzai's visit, which began Saturday, comes after years of stalled discussions among the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban about a possible Afghan settlement.

Washington is in favor of setting up a Taliban office in Qatar.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kabul last week, and urged the Taliban to hold talks and make efforts toward a wider political process. He warned that President Obama was yet to decide on the number of U.S. troops that will remain in the country after 2014.