Afghan government to shun U.S. talks with Taliban

(Reuters) – Revived Afghan peace talks hit their first roadblock yesterday, a day after they were announced, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government would not join U.S. talks with the Taliban and would halt negotiations with Washington on a post-2014 troop pact.

The United States and the Taliban had announced on Tuesday that officials from both sides will meet in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in coming days, in a step forward for a stuttering peace process after 12 years of bloody and costly war between U.S.-led forces and the insurgents.

But the precise timing of the negotiations was uncertain on Wednesday as U.S. officials worked furiously to keep the nascent peace talks on track.

Officials of Karzai’s government, angered by the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha on Tuesday, 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,” Karzai said in a statement, referring to a body he set up in 2010 to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Karzai’s objections appeared to focus on the way the Taliban unveiled the office in Doha, which suggested the Islamic movement would use it as an official embassy or even a base for a government-in-exile.

When Taliban envoys appeared at the building on Tuesday, it was decorated with a banner referring to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name the Taliban used during their 1996-2001 rule of the country.

Karzai said the office’s opening showed the United States had failed to honor promises made to the Afghan state about its role.

“The U.S. officials told us the office will be used to move peace talks forward, but not to give them an identity,” an Afghan official said. “The Taliban’s flag and the banner of the Islamic Emirate was something we did not expect.”

U.S. and Afghan officials said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Karzai on Tuesday night and again Wednesday morning in an effort to defuse the controversy.

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