Taliban name new political chief in Qatar

Taliban office in Doha (June 2013) Image copyright AP
Image caption The office in Doha was closed down after the Taliban flew their flag

The Afghan Taliban have named a new head of their political office in Qatar, in a sign that stalled peace moves may be getting back on track.

A statement said Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai had been appointed by new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

The post has been vacant since splits appeared in August after it emerged the group's founder Mullah Omar had died.

The Qatar appointment is seen as Mullah Mansour consolidating his hold over the group - and possible peace talks.

He has overseen a string of battlefield victories since taking charge.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the Qatar office move could be linked to a visit by Pakistan's army chief to the US last week. There may have been back-door consultations with the Afghan government as well, he reports.

Observers have long said that Pakistan's army maintains influence over the Taliban and other militant groups, although the military denies this.

The previous Taliban political head, Syed Tayyab Agha, quit in early August, criticising the way Mullah Mansour had succeeded Mullah Omar.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Syed Tayyab Agha, seen here in a 2001 file photo, stepped down to avoid "expected future disputes"

He said it was "a great historical mistake" that the new leader had been "appointed outside the country and from the people who are residing outside the country" - a reference to claims that the appointment had been influenced by circles associated with the Pakistani government.

In early summer, Afghan government negotiators met militant representatives for two rounds of talks, facilitated by Pakistan, before dialogue was suspended.

Our correspondent says it appears the Qatar office cannot be reopened until both Afghanistan and the US endorse it.

It was closed shortly after opening in 2013, when Kabul interpreted the Taliban's decision to fly their flag above the office as an attempt to paint themselves as a parallel government.

The Taliban set up an overseas office in Qatar as part of a move to launch a political arm for the militant group, with a known address and authorised representatives who could attend talks.

Syed Tayyab Agha was one of the Taliban's youngest leaders.

Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, on the other hand, is a veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance movement and served as deputy health minister when the Taliban were power in Afghanistan from 1996-2001.