Afghan President Hamid Karzai 'Plans Talks With Taliban'

The Afghan government is planning to meet the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to jump-start peace talks, the BBC has learned.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens to national anthem on the opening session of the Parliament in Kabul on January 21, 2012. Speaking at the opening of a new session of parliament shortly after Grossman's arrival, Karzai reiterated that his government accepted the plan for a Qatar office 'for the purpose of peace'. He noted that his government had also recently met a delegation from the second biggest insurgent group, Hizb-e-Islami, 'in brotherhood and good atmosphere' and emphasized that peace negotiations would continue.

The Afghan government is planning to meet the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to jump-start peace talks, the BBC has learned.

The landmark meeting will come in the coming weeks, before the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, according to Western and Afghan officials.

The Taliban have refused previously to recognise the government of President Hamid Karzai.

They have insisted they would only talk to the US and other Kabul allies.

A senior Afghan government official told the BBC: "Even if the Taliban office is established in Qatar we will obviously pursue other efforts in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey."

He continued: "Saudi Arabia has played an important role in the past. We value that and look forward to continued support and contact with Saudi Arabia in continuing the peace process."

The Taliban, contacted by the BBC, refused to comment on the move.

President Karzai was angered by US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without consulting his government fully.

In December, he recalled the Afghan ambassador in Doha. A delegation from Qatar is expected to arrive in Kabul shortly in an attempt to mend fences.

As reported by the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper, a number of Taliban officials have already arrived in Qatar.

The delegation includes Sher Mohammad Stanakzai, the Taliban's former deputy foreign minister and Shabudin Dilawari, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and Tayeb Agha, a close aide of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

However details for the establishment of a permanent office have still to be finalised.

There are worries that the Taliban are using the political office to raise funds, and as a ploy to buy time before foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

There is also concern in the presidential palace in Kabul that those negotiations will be primarily focused on an exchange of prisoners between the US and the Taliban.

Five senior insurgents are being held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.

America wants the return of three of its citizens held by the Taliban and its affiliates.

They include a captured soldier, Pte Bowe Bergdahl, and kidnapped US aid worker Warren Weinstein.

All are being held in the town of Miranshah in the troubled Pakistani province of North Waziristan.

There are divisions within the Taliban leadership, with one faction continuing to insist that all foreign troops must leave before any talks take place.

Messages have been sent to the Taliban commanders from the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's leadership council, warning against dissent.

Separately, President Karzai's government is attempting to improve bilateral relations with neighbouring Pakistan.

Three of the main insurgent groups fighting in Afghanistan are based in Pakistan. Islamabad's support will be vital in any credible peace process.