Afghan president boycotts US talks with Taliban

Karzai angered at being left out of initial negotiations

 

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said today his government would not join US peace talks with the Taliban and halted negotiations with Washington on a troop pact, underscoring the fragile nature of hopes for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan.

The United States and the Taliban have said officials from both sides will meet in Doha, the capital of Qatar, tomorrow, in a step forward for a stuttering peace process after 12 years of bloody and costly war between US-led forces and the insurgents.

But Afghan officials, angered by the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha yesterday, said the United States had violated assurances it would not give official status to the insurgents.

“As long as the peace process is not Afghan-led, the high peace council will not participate in the talks in Qatar,” Mr Karzai said in a statement, referring to a body he set up in 2010 to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Underlining the importance of the process to the United States, the state department said secretary of state John Kerry would travel to Doha for meetings with senior Qatari officials on Friday and Saturday.

A US delegation had arrived in Qatar earlier for the Taliban negotiations, a diplomatic source said. Fighting continued in the war-ravaged nation.

Four US soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on the heavily fortified Bagram base near Kabul late yesterday, international military officials said.

The Taliban’s spokesman in Qatar today confirmed the insurgency movement would attend tomorrow’s meeting with US officials, but gave no time for the talks.

The spokesman, Mohammed Naeem, said that no Afghan government officials would be at that meeting.

Mr Karzai said the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar showed the United States had failed to honour promises made to the Afghan state about the role of that office.

An Afghan official said the office gave the Taliban “an official identity”, to which the Kabul government objected.

“The US officials told us the office will be used to move peace talks forward, but not to give them an identity,” the official said.

“The Taliban’s flag and the banner of the Islamic Emirate was something we did not expect,” the official said, referring to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the Taliban used during their rule.

Senior Afghan officials told Reuters that Washington had given Kabul written assurance that the Taliban office did not constitute US political recognition for the group.

“Before the opening of the office the United States gave us written guarantees, and they were violated,” said one of two officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Yesterday, Mr Karzai had said his government would also send a team to Qatar but added the talks should quickly be moved to Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai’s office said it was suspending talks on a security pact with the United States that will stipulate how many US soldiers will stay in Afghanistan after most are pulled out by the end of next year.

“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,” Mr Karzai’s office said in a statement.

Negotiations on the bilateral security agreement began this year and, if completed, will set out how many US bases and soldiers will remain in Afghanistan once Nato ends combat operations by December 2014.

“The suspension of the talks will continue until there is clarity from the United States,” the Afghan official said.

The Taliban have until now refused talks with Kabul, calling Mr Karzai and his government puppets of the West.

But a senior Afghan official said earlier the Taliban were now willing to consider talks with the government.