KABUL (Reuters/AFP) - Afghanistan will accept a Taliban office in Qatar to help peace talks but no foreign power can get involved in the process without its consent, the government’s peace council said, as efforts gather pace to find a solution to the 10-year war.

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, in a note to foreign missions, has set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban after Kabul grew concerned that the United States and Qatar, helped by Germany, had secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

It said that negotiations with the Taliban could only begin after they stopped violence against civilians, cut ties to al Qaeda, and accepted the Afghan constitution which guarantees civil rights and liberties, including rights for women.

However, Afghanistan has not made formal contact with the Taliban over the opening of a political office despite setting out conditions for peace talks to begin. “There hasn’t been formal contact,” an official in the High Peace Council said on condition of anonymity.

“We have been trying for several years for contacts. There have been efforts made, but we haven’t reached a tangible result. “If we are going to have an office we want to engage with genuine Taliban representatives.”

The council, according to a copy of the 11-point note made available to Reuters, also said any peace process with the Taliban would have to have the support of Pakistan since members of the insurgent group were based there.

“The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is in agreement regarding the opening of an office for the armed opposition, but only to move forward the peace process and conduct negotiations,” the council said.

The government would prefer such an office in either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, both of which it is close to, but was not averse to Doha as long as the authority of the Afghan state was not eroded and the office was only established for talks, officials said. “We are saying Saudi or Turkey are preferable, we are not saying it has to be there only. The only condition is it should be in an Islamic country,” said a government official.

President Hamid Karzai’s administration recalled its ambassador from Doha last week, apparently angry that it had been kept in the dark about the latest round of negotiations with the insurgent group.

Officials said Kabul was also deeply concerned about reports that the United States was considering the transfer of a small number of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay military prison to Doha as a prelude to the talks.

“We are a sovereign country, we have laws. How can you transfer our prisoners from one country to another. Already it’s a violation to have them in Guantanamo Bay,” the official said.

The Afghan government wanted the prisoners to be returned to its custody, the official said.

Reuters reported this month that the United States was considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay into Afghan government custody as part of accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy.

“We have no problem with this. In fact we have been demanding this for a while. These are Afghan prisoners,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

The peace council, laying down the markers for engagement with the Taliban, said well known figures from both the Taliban and the government had to be involved in talks.

It said that “before any negotiations can take place, violence against Afghan people must stop and that the armed opposition must cut ties to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

It also said that the Taliban must accept the constitution and honour the gains made in the last 10 years since they were ousted from power, conditions that the Taliban have shown no sign of accepting.

The Taliban do not accept the constitution and have vowed to carry on fighting until all foreign troops have left the country.

The peace council said Pakistani support was necessary for talks to take place, another condition that makes the task harder because of fraught ties between the United States and Pakistan which fears it is being shut out of the process.

Opening a Taliban office in a third country itself is seen as a way to create distance from Pakistan.

But a government official said he did not think the peace council had laid down such tough conditions that the talks would fail even before they started. “We don’t think it’s a deal breaker. We are quite optimistic,” he said.