By Quentin Sommerville and Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul
President Karzai was angered by the Qatar process
The Afghan government is planning to meet the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to jump-start peace talks, the BBC has learned.
The landmark meeting will come in the coming weeks, before the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, according to Western and Afghan officials.
The Taliban have refused previously to recognise the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Senior officials in Kabul say the Taliban have agreed to the meeting.
The militant group, contacted by the BBC, refused to comment on the move.
The Taliban have so far insisted they would only talk to the US and other allies of the Kabul government.
A senior Afghan government official told the BBC: “Even if the Taliban office is established in Qatar, we will obviously pursue other efforts in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”
He continued: “Saudi Arabia has played an important role in the past. We value that and look forward to continued support and contact with Saudi Arabia in continuing the peace process.”
President Karzai was angered by US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without consulting his government fully.
In December, he recalled the Afghan ambassador in Doha. A delegation from Qatar is expected to arrive in Kabul shortly in an attempt to mend fences.
As reported by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, a number of Taliban officials have already arrived in Qatar.
The delegation includes Sher Mohammad Stanakzai, the Taliban’s former deputy foreign minister and Shabudin Dilawari, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Tayeb Agha, a close aide of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
However, details for the establishment of a permanent office have still to be finalised.
Michael Semple, a former EU envoy to Kabul who was expelled in 2007 for talking to the Taliban (SEE: What exactly were Mervyn Patterson and Michael Semple doing in Helmand?), told BBC radio that the Taliban were “confused by the lack of coherence” between the Afghan government and the international community.
“There’s a risk that the Taliban sit there and think there’s some kind of divide-and-rule going on from the international side… and that actually no negotiated deal is possible and that they are far better off maintaining the coherence of their leadership which at the moment, frankly, looks rather more coherent and united than anything on either the Afghan government or international side,” he said. (SEE: Dissecting the Anti-Pakistan Psyop)
There are worries that the Taliban are using the political office to raise funds, and as a ploy to buy time before foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.