KABUL, 19 JUNE: The Afghan government has said it will boycott talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, until the process is "Afghan-led".
"As long as the peace process is not Afghan-led, the High Peace Council will not participate in the talks in Qatar," President Hamid Karzai said in a statement today, referring to a body he set up in 2010 to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
The announcement came hours after Afghanistan, upset over what it called the US’ "inconsistent statement and action" over the peace process with the Taliban, said it was suspending security negotiations with Washington.
With the US-led NATO combat mission due to end next year, US officials are determined to resume talks with the Taliban after tentative contacts limited to a prisoner swap collapsed last year. But President Karzai, who has headed the US-backed Afghan government since a 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban opposes bilateral US-Taliban talks.
Today, he broke off ongoing Afghan-US talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after a NATO combat mission ends next year.
Hopes of peace were given a further reality check when the Taliban claimed an overnight rocket attack that killed four US troops at the largest US-led military base in Afghanistan.
In response to the talks suspension, US President Barack Obama said he always expected “friction” at Afghan reconciliation talks but voiced hope that “despite those challenges the process will proceed”.
But Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP there was a “contradiction between what the US government says and what it does regarding Afghanistan peace talks”.
He said the row centred on the Taliban office calling itself the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” ~ the formal name of its 1996-2001 government ~ on the grounds that no such thing existed, officials said. “The latest developments show that foreign hands are behind the Taliban’s Qatar office and, unless they are purely Afghan-led, the High Peace Council will not participate in talks,” it said. “The opening of Taliban office in Qatar, the way it was opened and messages it contained, contradicts the guarantees given by the US to Afghanistan,” the statement said. Troubled relations betw-een Karzai and Washington have degenerated into public spats in the past, but many Afghans also reacted with scepticism to news that the Taliban could be ready to enter peace talks.“It is a historic mistake by the US government, recognising and giving legitimacy to a terror network who are killing every single day Afghan civilians, women and children,” Shukria Barakzai, a moderate female lawmaker told AFP.