Kabul  - Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool will visit Qatar to meet government officials to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban, a ministry spokesman said on Saturday, a sign the nascent peace process could gain momentum. Rasool is scheduled to leave for Qatar in ten days, Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told Reuters.
The Afghan Taliban announced in January it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that would be likely to give it Afghan government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland. Initially the Kabul government was cool to the idea of the Taliban holding talks with US officials in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar. President Hamid Karzai withdrew his ambassador to Doha, apparently angry he had not been properly consulted or worried his government could be excluded from talks. An Afghan government official described Rasool’s visit as a “very important step” and that the Afghan ambassador would soon return to Qatar. Afghan officials have since pledged support for the Qatar reconciliation efforts, but also want Saudi Arabia and Turkey to facilitate talks to make the process more comprehensive. The Afghan government has had some contact with the Taliban, who have made a strong comeback after being toppled by a US invasion in 2001, but there are no signs that fully-fledged peace talks will happen soon. US diplomats have also been seeking to broaden exploratory talks that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in Qatar. The United States hopes to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table so Afghanistan can be stabilised before foreign combat troops head home at the end of 2014.