Afghanistan’s Karzai goes to Qatar to discuss peace with Taliban

Transfer to Afghan control of last prisoners at US-held Bagram complex appears resolved

Afghan president Hamid Karzai delivers a speech during an event to mark International Women’s Day in Kabul earlier this month. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Afghan president Hamid Karzai delivers a speech during an event to mark International Women’s Day in Kabul earlier this month. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Mon, Mar 25, 2013, 06:00

Afghan president Hamid Karzai will travel to Qatar within days to discuss peace negotiations with the Taliban, the Afghan foreign ministry said yesterday, as efforts intensify to find a negotiated solution to the 12-year war.

Mr Karzai’s trip to Qatar comes after years of stalled talks with the United States, Pakistan and the Taliban.

The announcement was made only hours after another thorny issue in the US-Afghan relationship – the transfer to Afghan control of the last group of prisoners at the Bagram military complex held by US forces – appeared to be resolved. The Pentagon announced on Saturday that a deal had been clinched.

The announcement comes several weeks after Mr Karzai delivered a fiery speech during the first visit to Afghanistan by US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, in which he accused Washington of holding peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar without him.

Mr Karzai also accused the Taliban of colluding with the US to keep foreign troops in the country, marking a fresh low point in the relationship between the Afghan president and his most powerful backer.

The issue of detainees at Bagram had become another stress point in Mr Karzai’s relations with Washington. American forces control an area of the prison adjacent to the Bagram military complex, which holds several dozen Taliban fighters considered by the United States to pose the most severe threat.

Washington is concerned the Afghans may release some of these men when control of the prison is handed over. That concern was reinforced during Mr Karzai’s outburst, in which he said the US had stalled on prisoner transfers and said he would release the “innocent”. – (Reuters)