By Sharon Behn – KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has canceled bilateral security talks with the United States, apparently to protest the opening of formal talks with the Taliban insurgent group. An Afghan statement said the manner in which the Taliban had opened their offices ran directly counter to assurances Washington had given Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai suddenly announced Wednesday that his government is pulling out of the bilateral talks with the United States. The aim of those talks is to lay out how many U.S. troops will remain in the country after 2014, and what role they will play in Afghanistan.
In a statement, Afghanistan’s National Security Council said the talks were suspended due to the “contradiction between acts and statements” made by the United States regarding the peace process.
Analyst Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network says Karzai’s actions likely reflect the Afghan leader’s deep displeasure with the international recognition the Taliban is receiving.
“I think that Karzai was against the opening of the office from the start, and he has tried to prevent it. When he failed to prevent it from going ahead, I think he, behind the scenes, made some conditions that were not met. The opening of the office the Taliban presented themselves as a government, they had their flag up, they managed to present themselves as respectable, and I am not surprised there has been a backlash,” said Clark.
The Taliban, which has fought the Afghan government and international troops for more than a decade, this week opened an office in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The United States said it would begin direct talks there on Thursday with the militant group.
But Kabul feels the U.S. decision to talk with the militants in a formal and public fashion outside Afghanistan undermines the role of the Afghan government.
Speaking in Berlin, U.S. President Barack Obama said some friction was expected in getting the talks off the ground.
Karzai had said Tuesday his government would send envoys from the Afghan High Peace Council to Qatar to try to open peace talks in Kabul with the Taliban.
High Peace Council member Mohammad Ismail Qasimyaar said the Taliban had gone too far, however, by placing their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan banner in the Doha office.
“The high peace council is going to consider the peace talks which was planned to be held in Doha, but you know, yesterday that there was a sign board of Islamic Emirates you know, according to the international rules and laws and practices and also our national legal system, under the constitution of Afghanistan, it would be difficult for the people of Afghanistan to accept such a thing.”
Qasimyaar said that as Afghans, the Taliban should hold talks directly with Kabul on Afghan soil.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for five years under the Islamic Emirate flag.
The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with Karzai, whom they dismiss as a lackey of the United States.
This latest dispute between Kabul and Washington comes one day after the NATO-led command handed over responsibility for security in the country to Afghan security forces.
U.S. General Joseph Dunford, speaking shortly after that ceremony, insisted the only path to peace in Afghanistan was through negotiation.
“My perspective has always been that this war is going to end with a political reconciliation, so I frankly would be supportive of any positive movement in terms of reconciliation, particularly an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process that would bring reconciliation between the Afghan people and the Taliban in the context of the Afghan constitution,” said Dunford.
Just hours after the U.S. announced the talks with the Taliban, a rocket attack on the Bagram air base killed four U.S. soldiers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.