'US officials hold talks with Taliban in Qatar’
New York: In a major policy shift, US officials have held direct talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar, with discussions centred around release of the Afghan militant group's prisoners from Guantanamo, a move that also has Pakistan's "tacit approval", a media report said.
Between four to eight Taliban negotiators travelled to Qatar from Pakistan to set up a political office. Preliminary discussions with American officials are
believed to have focused on "trust-building measures", including the possible prisoner transfer, a New York Times report quoted former Taliban officials as saying.
The Taliban team in Qatar includes a former secretary to the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, as well as several former officials of the Taliban government.
Former Taliban officials are not yet calling the discussions peace talks.
"Currently there are no peace talks going on," former minister of vice and virtue for the Taliban Maulavi Qalamuddin said in the report.
"The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar. We also want to strengthen the talks so we can create an environment of trust for further talks in the future," he said.
The talks between the US and Taliban have the "tacit approval" of Pakistan, which has obstructed previous efforts by the Taliban to engage in dialogue, the report added.
Pakistan allowed the Taliban delegation to obtain travel documents and fly to Qatar, a gesture that the former Taliban officials say has caught them by surprise.
"This is a green light from Pakistan," former Taliban minister of higher education Arsala Rahmani said. Pakistan "definitely supported this and is also helping," Qalamuddin added.
He said if Pakistan did not approve of the talks, it would have arrested the Taliban delegates to Qatar the way it had done with Mullah Baradar, a senior Taliban official, after he began secret talks with the Afghan government in 2010.
The Afghan government is not directly involved in the discussions, even though it was initially upset that it had been left out, the NYT report added.
The Afghan officials have also complained that they are not being kept fully informed about the discussions by the Americans.
The Taliban had previously announced that it would open a political office in Qatar, which would be the address where direct negotiations with the US could be held. In Qatar, advanced discussions have taken place about the transfer of prisoners.
A former official Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha said in the report five Taliban prisoners were to be transferred in two phases, two or three in one group and then the remainder. There has also been discussion of removing some Taliban members from NATO's "kill or capture" lists.
Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman, who had visited Afghanistan last week, had said the United States had not yet decided on releasing the Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo.
"This is an issue of United States law first of all, that we have to meet the requirements of our law," he had said. Early this week, US State Department threw enough hints that Grossman could have had met Taliban Representatives.
Grossman had two meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before and after his trip to Qatar.
The Obama administration would consult with the Congress before taking any decision. If any detainees were released, they would likely be transferred to Qatar and held there, perhaps under house arrest, the report added.