Analysis & Opinions - Chatham House

Taliban Qatar Office: A Small Step Forward

| June 20, 2013

This week the West's long-time enemies in Afghanistan, the Taliban, established an office in Doha. This was the subject of US-Taliban talks during 2011 but the dialogue was put on ice for over a year after US insistence on preconditions, mutual misunderstandings, Afghan government resistance, and divisions within the Taliban. So, what has changed to enable this to happen now, and why has President Karzai reacted so negatively? Factors relating to the Taliban, the US and the Afghan government help to explain the latest developments.

Taliban steps towards talks

Importantly, for the first time the Taliban has indicated publicly that it will meet with Afghan government officials — a long-standing condition for the opening of the office. The Taliban now says that it is ready 'to have meetings with Afghans in due appropriate time'. What this actually means is that it will meet with members of the Afghan High Peace Council, the group appointed by President Karzai to handle reconciliation with the Taliban. 

For several years Taliban leaders have occasionally met with Afghan officials. Such discussions are reported to have taken place on the margins of a meeting in Kyoto last June, and in Chantilly, last December. The difference now is that the Taliban, which has long denounced the Karzai regime as 'puppets of the invaders', has said publicly, albeit obliquely, that it will talk to them. 

There are several possible reasons for the Taliban's change of public policy. This includes war fatigue, pressure from Afghan communities, and concern about the emergence of a reinvigorated anti-Taliban coalition backed by regional states. Its leaders are resentful of exile and what they see as manipulation by Pakistan's military. They want political influence in Afghanistan, and for the Taliban to be internationally recognised as a legitimate political movement. They are uneasy about the prospects of once again becoming international pariahs. Time will tell if Taliban leaders are seriously interested in negotiations. But for the pragmatists among them, the opening of an office constitutes a step in the right direction....

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For Academic Citation: Waldman, Matthew. "Taliban Qatar Office: A Small Step Forward." Chatham House, June 20, 2013.