Afghan Talks Agree on Reopening Taliban Political Office

AL-KHOR, QATAR (Reuters) -

Representatives at preliminary talks aiming to end Afghanistan’s long war have agreed that Taliban should open a political office for negotiations, but disagreement over foreign troops is still hampering prospects for a ceasefire.

A statement issued on Monday outlined the agreements reached by at least 40 delegates to a “non-official meeting” bringing together Taliban representatives, Afghan government figures and U.N. representatives at a two-day meeting held in Qatar.

The dialogue was a step toward a peace process that has proved elusive during a war that has killed tens of thousands of Afghans since the Taliban were driven from power by a 2001 U.S.-led military operation.

In a further blow for peace hopes, Taliban fighters killed at least 18 police early on Monday in attacks in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, a local official said.

In Qatar the delegates agreed that the Taliban should re-open a political office in Doha that caused a furor in 2013 when it was briefly inaugurated as part of a previous, failed attempt to start negotiations.

At the inauguration ceremony, the Taliban representatives raised the flag of their former regime, enraging then-president Hamid Karzai and dooming hoped-for talks.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke declined comment on the report of a new Taliban office but said an Afghan-led peace process was the best hope for the country and the region.