The U.S. has entered "peace talks" with the Taliban according to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai Saturday.
Karzai reported that “foreign military and especially the U.S. itself” were currently holding talks with Taliban representatives.
The news follows statements earlier this month from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said that there was a serious chance political talks could begin with the Taliban before the year was out.
The speed of the announcement will surprise many commentators, but is encouraging and timely given that the U.S. is scheduled to begin withdrawing its 97,000 troops from Afghanistan next month. That process is thought to be the start of a long and arduous handover of all security operations in the country to Afghanistan itself by about 2014.
However, no sooner had the announcement been made by President Karzai on Saturday that news reports started coming in about another suicide bomb attack on a police station near the finance ministry in Kabul. The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attack that left five civilians and four police officers dead.
According to the BBC, the attack consisted of four attackers; two were shot by police, one was killed during a fire fight, and the fourth blew himself up, killing nine others in the process.
Commentators are predicting that the closer the Taliban come to settling on any peace agreement the group will increase its attacks in a bid to hold the strongest possible negotiating position.
The Taliban has previously insisted that it will only negotiate peace once international forces leave the country, and that it would not speak to any international representatives; only the Afghan government itself.
The latest developments come, however, soon after the U.N. announced Friday it was splitting its sanctions “blacklist” for the Taliban and al-Qaida. It hoped that by grouping the Taliban separately from al-Qaida it would show the Taliban that it was serious about its reconciliation efforts.
The U.N. Security Council explained that it was sending a signal to the Taliban that now is the time to join the political process.