Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday signalled his willingness to join peace talks with the Taliban in the first public indication that the diplomatic spat about the group’s new Qatar office was resolved.
The row has already delayed by a few days preliminary discussions between the United States and the Taliban.
A spokesman for Karzai said the Afghan government would join talks with the Taliban provided that the Taliban flag and nameplate with their former regime’s name – the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – are removed from the office. Once those commitments are met, spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said, “We would see no problem in entering into talks with the Taliban in Qatar.”
As of Thursday, the nameplate was replaced by one that read “Political office of the Taliban.” The switch was ordered by Qatar, according to US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. But the flagpole inside the compound has been apparently shortened and the Taliban flag is still flying but not visible from the street.
Other snags also remain. The Associated Press quoted Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail as saying that the Taliban has ruled out exclusive talks with the High Peace Council. Instead, the Taliban would talk to all Afghan groups, he said.
“After we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase ... that would include all Afghans,” he said. “Having all groups involved will guarantee peace and stability.”
Suhail said the Taliban are insistent that they want their first interlocutors to be the United States. “First we talk to the Americans about those issues concerning the Americans and us (because) for those issues implementation is only in the hands of the Americans,” he said.
“We want foreign troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan,” he added. “If there are troops in Afghanistan then there will be a continuation of the war.”
Suhail indicated the Taliban could approve of American trainers and advisers for the Afghan troops, saying that “of course, there is cooperation between countries in other things. We need that cooperation.”
He said that once the Taliban concluded talks with the United States, they would participate in all-inclusive Afghan talks.
Suhail confirmed that the Taliban had proposed to trade US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five of its detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban’s agenda before even opening peace talks with the US, said Suhail
“First has to be the release of detainees,” Suhail said when asked about Bergdahl. “Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward.”
Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho, is the only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he hoped planned US-Taliban peace talks could start “sooner rather than later”.
“I think peace talks could reinforce security gains and further contribute to Afghanistan’s security,”he told a press conference in Brussels.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.
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