Uncertainty Over Taliban Office in Qatar

Doha: Mark Johnson, who worked for an airline in Doha, applied for multiple 'exit permits' to go out of the country. When questioned by his colleagues, who could not hold their curiosity, the US citizen explained that talk of the Taliban setting up an office in Doha had made him worried and he feared for his safety. As such, he went for the exit document, which mandatory for any expatriate going out of the Gulf State of Qatar.

Two years ago, the Afghan Taliban decided to set up an office in Doha after talks with the government of Qatar, who agreed to mediate in the conflict between the Islamist militants and the Afghan government. Discussions on the Taliban setting up an office in the Gulf state were brought back into the limelight recently when Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Qatar on March 31 for talks with the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

Giving no details of Karzai's engagement, Qatar News Agency (QNA) only said that the Afghan president held talks with the Emir and the Prime Minister. However, before Karzai left for Qatar, his spokesman announced that he would "discuss the peace process, of course, and the opening of an office for the Taliban in Qatar."

The Taliban militia want to set up an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and consider President Hamid Karzai a stooge of the US government. NATO-led troops, who are fighting the Taliban, plan to withdraw almost completely in 2014 from Afghanistan, leaving the loosely governed and largely corrupt security apparatus in the hands of the Afghans.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 with Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates being the first countries to recognise the extremely conservative Islamist regime that was toppled by US led forces later.

Until now, there has been no official confirmation about the opening of the much-talked about Taliban office in Doha. However, there are some Taliban members in the country with their families, The Guardian reported soon after Karzai wrapped up his visit.

There were no reports of talks between Karzai and the Taliban, who have refused to sit across the table with the government in Kabul, rather preferring to negotiate with Qatar.

The proposal of the Taliban office in Doha is being seen as another instance of Qatar trying to play an active role in the Islamic world by mediating in conflicts and trying to bring about reconciliation among warring parties. Doha tried to bring about a rapprochement between militants in Sudan and the government of Omar Hassan Al Bashir, who has been accused of war crimes during the Sudanese civil war.

Doha also intervened in Yemen by helping bring about a smooth transition from President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime to the present dispensation which is seen to be more democratic.

In Syria, however, Qatar's role has faced strong resistance from the government, which accuses the Gulf state of arming militants to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad.

Brothers with arms

Karzai told Doha-based Aljazeera television that he was eager to talk to the Taliban before the mandate of NATO forces expires next year.

"We never planned to eliminate the Taliban. Not me, not the Afghan people, not the Afghan government," Karzai told Aljazeera. "The moment I was declared the head of the interim government ... I declared complete amnesty to the Taliban...from the leadership to everybody else," he said.

Referring to the Islamist militants as brothers, Karzai added: "And the plan to bring them and have them reintegrate into Afghan society like all other Afghans."

Rich country, but poor

The impoverished country's mineral wealth has been estimated at up to $13trillion, according to the US Geological Survey, Karzai told businessmen in Doha.
The Afghan leader urged Qatari businessmen to invest in the country, which he said, has huge deposits of gold, precious stones such as rubies, as well as oil and gas.

"Afghanistan is welcoming you with open arms," Karzai said of the insurgency-hit country in which India has invested $11bn, surpassing China's stake at $4.5bn.


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