The Taliban broke off contacts over peace talks with Washington on Thursday and the Afghan president demanded US troops leave village outposts, just days after an American soldier massacred 16 villagers.
Hamid Karzai also called for a transition of the nation’s security from Nato control to the Afghan government in 2013 rather than the previous deadline of 2014, after a meeting with visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
That plan was floated by Panetta ahead of a Nato meeting in Brussels last month, but the US-led coalition insists that it will only withdraw its combat troops by the end of 2014. The announcements from the Taliban came hard on the heels of the shooting spree by the US soldier, who has been detained and flown out of the country.
The fallout overshadowed Panetta’s two-day visit to Afghanistan, which was planned ahead of the shooting and was aimed at calming relations already hurt by last month’s burning of Holy Qurans at a US base in the war-torn country.
The Taliban made no mention of the killings as it announced the suspension of contacts with US officials in Qatar over a prisoner swap — talks that had built up hopes of a political solution before US troops leave.
“It was due to their alternating and ever-changing position that the Islamic Emirate was compelled to suspend all dialogue with the Americans,” the Taliban said on their website.
The rapid developments came after what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “a difficult and complex few weeks in Afghanistan”.
“We’re ready to take over all security responsibilities now,” Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi quoted him as telling Panetta. “We’d prefer that the process be completed in 2013, not 2014.”
Karzai then told Panetta that US-led international forces should “be withdrawn from villages and relocated in their bases”, his office said in a statement, without specifying a timeline.
It was not immediately clear how many American bases may be affected by Karzai’s demand, as the United States previously disbanded a number of outposts in a bid to concentrate on securing major towns from Taliban influence.
Nor was there any immediate response from Nato or Panetta, who told reporters after his Karzai talks that he was “confident” both sides could work out a treaty allowing a US military presence in the country beyond 2014.
The defence chief said he was optimistic that both sides would reach an agreement on controversial night raids — a major issue blocking the treaty — ahead of a Nato summit in Chicago in May.
Karzai objects to the raids on the grounds that they violate the sanctity of Afghan families in their own homes and that they are responsible for many civilian deaths — a claim the US disputes.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2012.