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AS the US began preliminary talks with Taliban negotiators in Qatar on plans for peace talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, amid reports that Pakistan and Afghanistan are seeking peace talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia separate from the US-brokered talks in Doha, it is now established that things are shaping up rapidly in Afghanistan as the US is treating the Taliban as a political force and a political stakeholder.

For that the US even agreed to transfer four to eight important Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay to set up a political office for the exiled Afghan insurgent group.

In another effort to soothe President Karzai’s doubts, a delegation from the Qatar government is expected to visit Kabul to explain its role in the talks as the Afghan president feels uncomfortable over the sharp change in the US stance and policy.

He has his suspicions over the direct negotiations; to him opening of the Taliban office in Qatar means giving Taliban recognition by the US against whom it fought for over a decade. Despite his suspicions, Karzai had no option but to back the Qatar initiative.

Pakistan has been sidelined in the process, but it is not out of the game. The Taliban declared that they could not ignore Pakistan and would not like to annoy it, even if they sought more independence, and less interference by Islamabad in their decision-making.

That’s why it seems, as a BBC report indicates, the Afghan government, not fully agreeing to the US-Qatar initiative and Pakistan, partially sidelined, have plans for talks in Saudi Arabia that both Kabul and Islamabad were looking for their own talks with the Taliban.

The US administration is of the view that its strong military presence in Afghanistan and an indecisive long-term plan of its military’s presence beyond 2014 can be used as a leverage to convince the Taliban on the necessity of Kabul’s participation in talks and cutting down on its other demands to let the talks process take off the ground.

The reason cited is that if Kabul is not a part of the negotiations, then it will not be possible to bring the Taliban in mainstream political parties. Therefore, it seems difficult to understand that the negotiations will bring an end to the Afghan conflict.

Moreover, sidelining Pakistan and the actual stakeholders in Afghanistan is not likely to bring in the desired results. The issues of Nato supplies, drone attacks and border violations need to be resolved as immediately as possible.

F. Z. KHAN Islamabad