Taliban Moves to Open Foreign Office
The Taliban announced Tuesday it would be opening its first overseas political office in what is seen as a political gesture to the United States.
In a statement on its "Voice of Jihad" website the Taliban said they had taken the initial steps necessary to open an office outside Afghanistan.
"We're now prepared, while having a strong presence inside (Afghanistan), to have a political office outside (Afghanistan) for negotiations," the statement said.
"And as part of this we have reached initial agreement with relevant sides, including Qatar."
Opening a foreign political office raises the prospect of a negotiated peace after more than ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. The group has previously insisted it would not talk until all foreign troops had left Afghan soil.
The Taliban stipulated a prisoner exchange including the release of Taliban inmates from the US-run detention facility Guantanamo Bay, however.
There are still some 130,000 US-led forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency across Afghanistan. A complete drawdown of coalition combat troops in the country is scheduled for the end of 2014.
However, the United States and its NATO allies have been pressing for political solutions to secure an end to the war before they depart.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai has reportedly agreed to US-Taliban talks on condition his government be involved in the process.
Meanwhile, Karzai and US embassy officials met on Tuesday with a delegation from Hezb-i-Islami - Afghanistan's second largest terrorist group - led by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The September assassination of Karzai's peace envoy, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, had previosuly derailed hopes of progress in talks with Afghan insurgents.
While officials in the West have hailed the new contacts as a breakthrough that can bring a negotiated peace to the region, many Afghans fear the return of the Taliban to Kabul's political life will lead to an erosion of human rights and freedoms.
When in power the Taliban garnered a reputation for running a reactionary and oppressive Islamic government that imposed an extreme interpretation of Sharia law in its citizens.