Taliban reaffirms authority of its Qatar ‘political office’ 
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The Afghan Taliban said Sunday that its “political office” in Qatar is the only entity authorized to carry out negotiations on its behalf, reinforcing the authority of the man who took control of the group amid a tussle over command following the death of longtime leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

The Taliban made the declaration in a summary emailed by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid of a statement it made during unofficial, closed-door talks taking place in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Those talks are organized by Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning group focused on resolving conflict. Pugwash last year organized similar talks that were also attended by Afghan officials.

The Qatar talks are separate from official peace efforts involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States. Those negotiations, which do not include the Taliban but aim to pave the way for talks between the militants and Kabul, are expected to resume in Islamabad on February 6.

Peace talks faltered last summer after the Afghan government announced Mullah Omar had been dead since 2013. That announcement prompted the Taliban to pull out of talks and led to a power struggle within the group over who would represent it.

Members of the Taliban’s Qatar office are believed to be directly linked to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who officially assumed the top position after Omar’s death was announced last year. He was previously Omar’s longtime deputy.

In its statement from the Qatar talks, the group said it is committed to peace should it succeed in its aims of ending foreign intervention in Afghanistan and establishing an “independent Islamic system.” It said it is committed to “civil activities,” free speech and “women’s rights in the light of Islamic rules, national interests and values.”

Calling itself the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the group added that it wants good relations with the world “on the basis of mutual respect.”

“We do not want to interfere in others’ affairs, nor do we use our soil to harm others, nor allow others to interfere in our affairs,” it said.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan according to a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion launched after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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