Afghan Taliban, U.S. revive reconciliation talks in Qatar: Karzai
KABUL - Reuters
Afghan President Hamid Karzai gives a speech during an event to mark International Women's Day in Kabul March 10, 2013. REUTERS PhotoThe Afghan Taliban and the United States have been holding talks in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday.
The Taliban suspended the talks one year ago, blaming "shaky, erratic and vague" U.S. statements.
The U.S. government has said it remained committed to political reconciliation involving talks with the Taliban but progress would require agreement between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
"Senior leaders of the Taliban and the Americans are engaged in talks in the Gulf state on a daily basis," Karzai told a gathering to mark International Women's Day.
But the Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied that negotiations with the United States had resumed and said no progress had been made since they were suspended.
"The Taliban strongly rejects Karzai's comments," he said.
U.S. officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Kabul government has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to the negotiating table before most U.S.-led NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
Afghan officials have not held direct talks with the militants, who were toppled in 2001 and have proven resilient after more than a decade of war with Western forces.
U.S. diplomats have been seeking to broaden exploratory talks with the Taliban that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in Qatar.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops.
Hagel, who arrived on Friday for his first trip abroad as defense secretary, is also due to hold talks with Karzai, whose recent orders to curtail U.S. military activity highlights an often tense relationship with the 66,000 American forces here.
Hagel's visit also coincides with the passing of a deadline imposed by Karzai for U.S. special forces to leave the province of Wardak, after Karzai accused them of overseeing torture and killings in the area.
U.S. forces have denied involvement in any abuses and it was not clear if they were leaving Wardak by the deadline.
Regional power Pakistan indicated a few moths ago that it would support the peace process by releasing Afghan Taliban detainees who may help promote the peace process.
But there have been no tangible signs the move advanced reconciliation.
Hagel trip marred over Karzai slam
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s rebuke over United States, Taliban of collusion overshadowed U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s trip, in a move that underscores tension between allies struggling to stabilize the country ahead of a NATO troop withdrawal.
A joint news conference that had been scheduled for Karzai and Hagel has been cancelled over security concerns, U.S. officials said. The officials declined to cite the nature of the security threat.
But it comes a day after a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed nine civilians, about a kilometer away from where Hagel was holding a morning meeting.
Karzai yesterday accused the Taliban and the U.S. of working in concert to convince Afghans that violence will worsen if most foreign troops leave as planned by the end of next year. “The explosions showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014.
They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents,” Karzai said. The issue of U.S. troop levels after most U.S.-led NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014 will be one of the main subjects on the agenda at talks between Karzai and Hagel.