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Kabul Plans Direct Peace Talks With Taliban In Saudi Arabia


Afghan President Hamid Karzai (center), seen praying during the opening ceremony of the second year of the Afghanistan parliament in January, was said to be angered by the Qatar initiative.
Afghan officials are planning direct peace talks with Taliban militants in the coming weeks.

A senior official in Kabul who spoke on condition of anonymity has confirmed that a meeting is scheduled in Saudi Arabia between Afghan authorities and "some" factions willing to join peace talks.

Neither Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office nor the Afghan Foreign Ministry would confirm reports of the meeting.

But Afghan High Peace Council member Ismail Qasimyar told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan he is "very optimistic" there will soon be peace talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia or Turkey.

He said the initiative is separate from preliminary talks between U.S. officials and the Taliban at a new liaison office in Qatar, which Qasimyar described as "a trust-building measure" rather than peace talks.

"I can see the possibility that the situation could improve to the point that some Taliban leaders may prefer to have different priorities than [talks through the Taliban liaison office in] Qatar, such as [joining direct peace talks in] Saudi Arabia or maybe Turkey," Qasimyar said.

BBC quoted unnamed Western and Afghan officials saying that the Saudi meeting would come ahead of any Qatar gathering.

Qasimyar said Pakistan could also play a crucial role in facilitating direct talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban.

In Kabul, senior Afghan security sources told Reuters news agency that Afghan officials could use a visit to Kabul this week by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to press for greater access to Taliban leaders.

One Afghan official specified that Kabul wants access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- a co-founder of the Taliban movement who was captured in Pakistan in 2010 -- as well as other members of the so-called Quetta Shura, a Taliban leadership council thought to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Kabul views those senior Taliban leaders and their advisers as critical to winning support in Afghanistan for the fledgling peace process because they are the main decision-makers for the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said Kabul hopes the one-day visit by Pakistan's foreign minister on February 1 would "mark a new phase in the relationship between both countries."

Based on RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan and agency reports