Karzai heads to Qatar with Taleban talks on agenda

KABUL (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai travelled to Qatar on Saturday to discuss Taleban militants opening an office in the Gulf state for peace talks that could end more than a decade of war, his office said.

Until earlier this year, Mr Karzai was strongly opposed to the Islamist extremists having a meeting venue outside Afghanistan as he feared that his government would be frozen out of any negotiations.

The militants refuse to have direct contact with Mr Karzai, saying he is a puppet of the United States, which has supported his rise to power after the military operation to oust the Taleban in 2001.

But with NATO-led combat troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Mr Karzai agreed to the proposed Taleban office in Qatar and is expected to firm up the plan with the emir of Qatar on Sunday.

Any future peace talks still face numerous hurdles before they begin, including confusion over who would represent the Taleban and Mr Karzai's insistence that his appointees are at the centre of negotiations.

"We will discuss the peace process, of course, and the opening of an office for the Taleban in Qatar," presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP before Mr Karzai left Kabul with several senior members of his government.

"If we want to have talks to bring peace to Afghanistan, the main side must be the Afghan government's representatives - the High Peace Council, which has members from all the country's ethnic and political backgrounds."

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