Afghan Taliban give 'peace a priority'

1 December 2008- ICRC Headquarters Kabul Afghanistan-Syed Mohammad, a Pastun wheat farmer from Tarin Kowt District in Uruzgan travelled for two days and two nights to the ICRC offices in Kabul for a video conference

1 December 2008- ICRC Headquarters Kabul Afghanistan-Syed Mohammad, a Pastun wheat farmer from Tarin Kowt District in Uruzgan travelled for two days and two nights to the ICRC offices in Kabul for a video conference

Taliban leaders will continue to have discussions with the newly appointed US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, the group said on Saturday, a move that could accelerate diplomatic engagement between the warring sides. The officials, who spoke to the Associated Press on Saturday on condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the process, said the meetings were held Friday in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

The Taliban statement was issued as Khalilzad returned to Kabul after a regional trip that began with his first visit to Afghanistan since his appointment last month as United States envoy.

But the group made clear that the presence of foreign forces in the country was a "big obstacle" to peace.

Earlier in July, Alice Wells, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, also met Taliban representatives in Doha, a conference which was described by the participants as "talks about talks", according to the Wall Street Journal.

Both sides "agreed to continue such meetings". A Taliban official who was part of the four-person delegation to that meeting said it produced "very positive signals".

Taliban and U.S. negotiators discussed a "peaceful end to the invasion in Afghanistan", Mujahid said, referring to the US-led intervention in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime.

The spokesman explained that the role of the US, the Afghan government and other regional players is equally important and that is why ambassador Khalilzad is visiting other countries including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to elicit their support.

"It was an introductory meeting in which an eight-member US delegation held a detailed meeting with members of our political office", said a senior Taliban member.

No further details have been given regarding the briefing made by Ambassador Khalilzad regarding his recent trips.

Western and Asian diplomats in Kabul said Khalilzad, 67, has knowledge of the country's main languages, culture and politics that could help him engage with all stakeholders in the peace process.

On Monday, he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior leaders in Kabul before travelling to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for further talks.

Recalling the sacrifices of the Afghan people over many years of war, Khalilzad said: "We, in cooperation with the Afghan people and government, want to make a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans see themselves included".

Fluent in Pashto and Dari, Khalilzad's experience as a foreign policy operative in the country dates back to the 1980s, when he served as an adviser to the Reagan administration.