Attempt at Afghan peace talks stymied

Anger in Kabul over opening of Taliban office in Qatar delays US-Taliban contact

Internally displaced Afghan children sit outside their makeshift house at a refugee camp in Kabul yesterday, which was World Refugee Day. Photograph: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

Internally displaced Afghan children sit outside their makeshift house at a refugee camp in Kabul yesterday, which was World Refugee Day. Photograph: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

 

A fresh effort to end Afghanistan’s 12-year-old war looked in trouble yesterday after a diplomatic spat about the Taliban’s new Qatar office delayed preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents.

A meeting between US officials and representatives of the Taliban had been set for yesterday in Qatar but Afghan government anger at the fanfare surrounding the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state threw preparations into confusion.

The squabble may set the tone for what could be arduous negotiations to end a conflict that has torn at Afghanistan’s stability since the US invasion following the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on the US. Asked when the talks would take place, a source in Doha said: “There is nothing scheduled that I am aware of”, and confirmed that meant they would not happen yesterday.


Paving way
The opening of the office was a practical step paving the way for peace talks. But the official-looking protocol surrounding the event raised angry protests in Kabul that the office would develop into a Taliban government in exile. A diplomatic scramble ensued to allay their concerns.

US secretary of state John Kerry spoke to Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Tuesday and Wednesday in an effort to defuse the controversy, US and Afghan officials said.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen appeared to side with Mr Karzai by pointing out that alliance leaders at Nato’s Chicago summit last year had made clear the peace process in Afghanistan must be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”.


Long-term security
Nevertheless, Mr Rasmussen said peace talks could reinforce security gains in Afghanistan and contribute to long-term security and unity.

Word of the talks had raised hopes that Mr Karzai’s government and the Taliban might enter their first direct negotiations on Afghanistan’s future, with Washington acting as a broker and Pakistan as a major outside player.

The Taliban has until now refused talks with Kabul, calling Mr Karzai and his government puppets of the West. But a senior Afghan official said the Taliban was now willing to consider talks with the government. Pakistan’s powerful military played a central role in convincing the Taliban to hold talks with Washington, US and Pakistani officials said, a shift from US views that it was obstructing peace in the region. – (Reuters)