Taliban appoint top official to Qatar political office

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Taliban have appointed a veteran official to run a political office in Qatar, a spokesman for the militant group said on Tuesday, while blaming the presence of foreign troops for stalled talks to end the 14-year war.

Hopes for peace were raised briefly in July when the Taliban met Kabul government representatives for the first time, in Pakistan.

But the Taliban then split violently over a successor to supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, whose death was announced late that month.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai had been appointed as head of their political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

“There has been no sign of progress in peace because of the presence of foreign troops,” Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban first opened the office in Qatar in 2013, but little progress had been made toward talks until this year.

“He had been associated with the political office in the past and has represented the Islamic Emirate in a number of rounds of peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan government,” Mujahid said of Stanekzai, referring to the Taliban.

The Afghan government has been trying to breathe life into a process that has proved elusive during a war that has killed thousands of Afghans since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led military operation.

Fighting has escalated in many parts of the country since the departure of most foreign combat troops last year, and the Taliban, demanding the expulsion of all foreign forces, have gained control over wider areas.

Around 13,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan, most of them training Afghan forces.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Jibran Ahmed, Editing by Robert Birsel and Mike Collett-White