Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to participate in peace talks with Taliban on grounds of contested sovereignty has led to an indefinite postponement of the dialogue in Doha that the Americans were keen to steer.
Itar-Tass news agency quoting sources close to the negotiating process reported the postponement of the talks. The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that the visit to Qatar by the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins has been delayed.
After following closely the open spat between the Americans and the Afghans, the Russians, already at odds with Washington over the situation in Syria and Iran, expressed their stance on the rapidly mutating situation in the heart of the Hindu Kush. On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it fully supported Mr. Karzai’s position that peace efforts in the war-torn country should be led by the government of Afghanistan, instead of the U.S.
Apprehending that the Americans and the Taliban had taken custody of the Doha peace talks, the Karzai administration had retaliated strongly by suspending security talks with Americans over stationing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the 2014 NATO withdrawal from the country.
Upholding the principle of sovereignty, Mr. Karzai also asserted that members of the High Peace Council — the body entrusted with peace talks with the Taliban — would “neither attend nor participate in the talks” until the process was “completely” in the hands of Afghans. He also signalled the necessity of ceasefire, pointing out that talks “will be possible when only Afghan parties will take part and the country will put an end to violence”.
The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that a peace dialogue in Afghanistan could have a positive outcome only if the government in Kabul led the process, and on condition that the Taliban severed ties with al-Qaeda, ended the violence and accepted Afghanistan’s constitution, including its protections of women and minorities.
By Thursday, it had become clear that the Karzai government was in no mood to be placated by the removal of the Taliban flag and the plaque which said the facility belonged to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from its new office. These two signs of Taliban’s attempt at usurping Afghan sovereignty had been removed overnight following intervention by the Qatari government on the insistence of the Americans.
The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had thrice called Mr. Karzai on Wednesday, but his exertions have not yielded any visible results so far. The Afghan website TOLO news is reporting that Kabul has expressed serious reservations about the U.S. initiative.
‘Crosses the redline’
“The Taliban cannot get through political means what they have been fighting for in the last 12 years,” the website quoted a senior government official as saying. “They cannot kill people in Afghanistan every day and at the same time tour the world to represent the Islamic Emirate and establish relationships. It crosses the redline,” the official observed. He added that Taliban, in their statement at the opening of their office, had said, without specifically mentioning the Afghan government by name, that they would generally engage with Afghans “if necessary”. The website said that the Afghan government has now refused to talk with the Taliban in Qatar and made it clear that it will not be participate unless it is allowed to lead the peace process without foreign meddling.
The Taliban, meanwhile, seemed to be mounting a fresh charm offensive to engage with the Americans. The Associated Press quoting a senior spokesman reported that Afghan Taliban are ready to free a U.S. soldier, held captive since 2009, in exchange for five of their senior operatives, imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, as a conciliatory gesture.