News Column

Karzai Boycotts Taliban Talks, Suspends U.S. Security Pact

June 19, 2013

Hares Kakar and Subel Bhandari, dpa

Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday boycotted proposed negotiations with the Taliban, saying a day after the United States announced it would hold talks with the militants that the peace process had to be Afghan-led.

Hours earlier, he suspended talks with the US about its troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014 when the NATO-led coalition ends its combat mission there.

The boycott was a turnaround from Tuesday, when Karzai said he would send a delegation for peace talks with the Taliban in Doha. The militants opened a political office that same day in the Qatari capital.

"Recent developments indicate that foreign powers are involved behind the Taliban office in Qatar," Karzai said. "The High Peace Council will not attend talks unless there is a complete Afghan-led peace process."

Karzai formed the council in 2010, naming politicians, former Taliban leaders, warlords and religious leaders to the body to seek an end to the conflict.

One of its members, Ismael Qasemyar, said Afghanistan wants "an Afghan-led negotiation ... among Afghans, not others."

Qasemyar, who was at a consultative meeting with Karzai Wednesday before the announcement was made, also said the Taliban insistence that it would continue fighting was troublesome.

"The slogan of war means to continue terrorist activities and the killing of innocent men, women and children," Qasemyar said.

In an interview with the Doha-based Al Jazeera television, one Taliban official said the movement would continue pursuing military and political options.

"There is no ceasefire now," Mohammed Sohail Shaheen said. "They are attacking us, and we are attacking them. The attacks will continue in parallel with the talks for peace."

Indeed, hours after the opening of the office, four soldiers with the NATO-led coalition were killed in a rocket attack outside Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

Afghanistan will seek peace talks with the Taliban based on "protection of the last 10 years of gains, but a message of war and bloodshed was sent by this office," Karzai's statement said.

Earlier Wednesday, Karzai said talks with the US were suspended on a security agreement that would determine how many bases the US would have after 2014 and what kind of support it would give Afghan forces.

"In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations currently under way in Kabul," the statement said.

Analysts said Karzai is not happy with the US role in the Doha talks. They said he thinks the US did not push the Taliban enough to negotiate with Kabul directly or renounce violence - two conditions Kabul had set for the talks.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama defended Washington's decision to seek negotiations with the Taliban despite protests from Karzai.

"We still believe you've got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of some sort of political reconciliation," he said on a visit to Berlin.

"President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation," Obama said.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke twice with Karzai by phone to attempt to smooth relations, including by noting the US does not recognize the name "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" used by the Taliban on the sign of its Doha office, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Afghanistan was called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) during Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001. Their movement carries the same name.

"The office must not be treated as or represent itself as an embassy or other office representing the Afghan Taliban as an emirate government or sovereign," Psaki said.

She emphasized that the US was working with Afghan officials in moving forward with the talks and had not set a firm date for them to begin. US officials said Tuesday they would begin in "a couple of days."

Kerry is to travel to Doha Saturday for talks on Syria, but Psaki said he would not meet with any Taliban. James Dobbins, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who was to have been in Doha this week and had been expected to take part in the talks, did not leave Washington as planned Tuesday, she said.

The insurgent movement seems to have snubbed the Afghan government in the whole process. No one from the Afghan embassy was informed of or invited to the office opening Tuesday.

While the Taliban did not reject categorically any talks with Karzai as they had done in the past, they said they would talk to "Afghans in due appropriate time."

Karzai has often repeated that Afghanistan cannot be sidelined during any peace talks with the Taliban. Last year, he became furious and asked the Afghan ambassador to Qatar to return home after the Taliban disclosed they would open the Doha office.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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