Fears for Afghan peace plan as Karzai threatens to boycott talks
AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai has plunged his country's peace talks into doubt by threatening to boycott the process unless militants end their violence and the US pulls out of negotiations with the Taliban.
He also broke off security talks with the US, only a day after a new push for peace was unveiled.
Afghan officials said they were furious that the Taliban's official new office in Doha, Qatar's capital, was accredited to the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", the name the extremists used when they held power.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, last night moved to placate Mr Karzai, reportedly assuring him the sign reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" had been removed. Mr Karzai's announcements threaten to wreck weeks of behind-the-scenes talks and hopes of a new push for peace.
A statement released by the Afghan presidential palace 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."
The setback is a reminder that hopes of ending the 12-year war, as Afghan forces take full responsibility for security, remains precarious.
Western officials know the clock is ticking for a political deal before international combat troops complete their withdrawal next year.
On Tuesday, Mr Karzai announced that his negotiators would travel to Doha for talks while American officials announced they would meet the Taliban representatives today. However, the Taliban signalled its intent yesterday, launching a rocket attack on Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, killing four Americans.
President Barack Obama said any peace process was bound to suffer setbacks. "My hope is that despite those challenges the process will proceed," he said.
The Taliban's spokesman in Qatar said representatives would meet US officials for preliminary talks today but no time had been set. At the Taliban's office in the city's West Bay area, workmen were the only visitors. A man said that the office was not ready to receive visitors and that none of the senior Taliban emissaries was available. "When we are ready, in three or four days, we will be open to the world," he said.
He said no decision had been made on what time or where talks with the Americans would take place. Workmen leaving the compound said they had been fitting CCTV and telecommunications equipment. All the bills were being paid by Qatar's ministry of interior. For the time being, the building remains a stumbling block to peace.
Martine van Bijlert, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said the Afghan state had been wrong-footed by a Taliban PR stunt and now felt tricked by the Americans. (© Daily Telegraph, London)