Taliban Confirm 'Initial' Deal to Open Office Overseas, Possibly in Qatar

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The Taliban announced on Tuesday that they had come to an "initial agreement" to open their first political overseas office, possibly in Qatar, as part of peace talks with the United States.

In a statement on their purported website "Voice of Jihad,” the Islamists said they had held "preliminary talks with relevant sides including Qatar" to open an office outside Afghanistan, without confirming where it would be.

One of their demands would be for a prisoner exchange to include the release of inmates from the U.S.-run detention facility Guantanamo Bay, they said.

"We're now prepared, while having a strong presence inside (Afghanistan) to have a political office outside (Afghanistan) for negotiations," the statement said, reiterating the stance that all foreign troops must leave to end the war.

The insurgent group, now into an 11th year of fighting President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government, said: "The occupation of the country must be ended and Afghans must be allowed to create an Islamic government of their choice that would do no harm to anyone."

But it rejected some media reports that negotiations with the U.S. had begun.

The comments come two days after Karzai made a public statement to welcome remarks by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that the Taliban "per se is not our enemy,” saying it would help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

Biden's comments to Newsweek magazine triggered controversy in the U.S. but reflected an increasing focus on finding a political settlement.

Karzai has agreed that if the United States wants to set up a Taliban address in Qatar to enable peace talks he will not stand in the way, as long as Afghanistan is involved in the process.

The September assassination of Karzai's peace envoy, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, appeared to have derailed any prospects of progress in talks.

In the interview with Newsweek Biden emphasized the need for the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaida.

As it pushes for a political settlement, the Afghan government has changed its tone towards the insurgents, referring to "terrorist" rather than "Taliban" attacks.

But many Afghans fear if the Taliban is allowed into mainstream politics, their influence will see the undermining of human rights and freedoms.

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