U.S. to Begin Talks With Taliban; Karzai Balks

By:  Warren Mass
U.S. to Begin Talks With Taliban; Karzai Balks

Obama administration officials said on June 18 that representatives will begin formal talks with the Taliban “within a few days" at a new office in Doha, Qatar.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, told the Associated Press that they viewed the Taliban’s opening of the office as a stepping stone to the fundamentalist Islamic movement’s repudiation of al-Qaeda.

A report from France 24 news on June 19 said that Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem (shown) held a news conference — broadcast live on Qatar’s al Jazeera television channel — from the militant group’s new office on Tuesday. Naeem told reporters that the Taliban wanted good relations with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries.

The officials said the United States and Taliban representatives will initially hold bilateral meetings, but expect that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council would join the process with its own talks several days later. A senior Afghan official told Reuters that talks with the High Peace Council would go ahead.

“The peace talks will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council,” an anonymous source identified as a “senior Afghan official” was quoted by Reuters as saying.

However, a June 19 report from Fox News cited a different message from Afghan President Hamid Karzai: He will refuse peace talks with the Taliban in the Qatar office unless only Afghans are involved and violence stops. This statement came after Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for an attack on the Bagram Air Base that killed four U.S. troops.

According to the report, quoting from a statement issued by Karzai’s office, the president said his High Peace Council would “neither attend nor participate in the talks” until the process is “completely” in the hands of Afghans.

An key reason why Karzai decided not to participate in the talks, noted Fox, was that the announcement released by the Taliban used the group’s formal name, “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” That was the name under which the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from September 1996 until December 2001, when they were overthrown by the American-led invasion.

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Photo of Taliban representative Mohammed Naeem: AP Images

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