Again, the US Uses Qatari “Taliban” To Derail Real Afghan/Taliban Negotiationss

DOHA, Qatar—Taliban envoys laid out preconditions for peace talks to begin during meetings with people close to the Afghan government on Sunday, reiterating that a formal process can’t start as long as foreign troops remain in the country.

The Taliban also called for lifting United Nations sanctions that ban its leaders from flying internationally and tie up their financial assets.

They also said their political office in Qatar should reopen before peace talks start. The office was shut down days after it opened in 2013 following protests by the Afghan government.

“As long as foreign forces are in Afghanistan, peace and stability is impossible,” Mohammad Naim Wardak, a member of the Taliban delegation, said on the sidelines of the event. “We will take every path which leads to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and to the establishment of an Islamic system.”

It was the first time members of the group’s political commission, which is based in the Qatari capital and has a mandate to lead peace efforts, have publicly discussed reconciliation initiatives since President Barack Obama dropped plans in October to withdraw almost all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

The U.S. will keep at least 5,500 U.S. troops in bases across the country until Mr. Obama leaves office in January 2017.

The closed-door forum, which took place in a five-star hotel in central Doha, was organized by the international group Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which works on conflict resolution. It followed a similar event organized by the same group in May.

The Afghan government opposed the event and tried to stop it, fearing interference with simultaneous Pakistan-brokered efforts to restart peace talks.

The government said foreign troops had a legal right to remain in Afghanistan, and complained that the international platform gave the Taliban undue legitimacy.

“The government is open to talking with Taliban groups and is ready to discuss their concerns, but for the Taliban to set condition for talks is unacceptable,” said Zafar Hashemi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Participants, who attended the two-day conference on an individual basis rather than as the government’s representatives, included Mr. Ghani’s uncle Qayyum Kochai, an informal adviser to the president on peace-related issues and Malalai Shinwari, another adviser who was one of the few women in attendance.

Officials from Pakistan and Qatar also participated, as well as former U.S. diplomat and regional expert Robin Lynn Raphael.

“We have all expressed our opinion and encouraged the Taliban to go and talk to the government,” Mr. Kochai said. “Why should the government send representatives if they are not ready to talk?”

The conference provided a rare opportunity for Taliban representatives to engage with Afghan lawmakers, civic activists and others associated with the government and speak publicly on their conditions for joining a peace process.

“It was a good beginning,” said Umar Daudzai, a former Afghan interior minister who is now a leading member of an opposition party. “If we can build on this common ground, I am hopeful it can lead to formal peace talks.”

The Pugwash organizers said the talks showed there was common ground and an opportunity for progress. “The freedom for all parties to discuss the path to peace needs to be ensured from now on,” they said, adding, “The highest priority in this regard is enabling all sides to sit together.”

Mr. Ghani sees Pakistan’s participation as key for lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Afghan and Western officials have long accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban, who are based in Pakistan. Pakistan’s government has acknowledged it has some influence over the insurgents, but insists it doesn’t control the group.

Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and their backers the U.S. and China are holding a series of talks aimed at preparing the framework for a possible peace process, with a next meeting scheduled for Feb. 6.

Write to Jessica Donati at Jessica.Donati@wsj.com and Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com

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