Karzai fears being sidelined in peace talks

Karzai fears being sidelined in peace talks

KABUL - Agence France-Presse
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned over being sidelined in U.S. efforts to bring Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table, a government official said yesterday.

The hard-line Islamists announced this week that they planned to open an overseas political office, a move seen as a precursor to talks to end the long and bloody war in Afghanistan. A senior official in Karzai’s administration told Agence France-Presse that Karzai was unhappy over the process as it had not involved his government.

 “Any peace process without Afghanistan’s government in the lead is meaningless,” the official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “The U.S. officials that we are in contact with say that once the office is set up and talks gets underway the lead will be given to Afghanistan’s government. Without that no talks could succeed,” he said.

“But so far, the Afghan government has not been involved.” On Jan. 4 Karzai’s office said it “agrees with the negotiations between U.S. and Taliban that will end up in creating an office for Taliban in Qatar.” But the government official said it was essential that the Afghan government played a lead role in any peace talks.

The Islamists have also demanded the release of Taliban prisoners held at the U.S.-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Jan. 4 Washington was “prepared to support” a proposed overseas Taliban office that backed an Afghan-led reconciliation process provided it met U.S. and Afghan standards. “With regard to Guantanamo... no decisions have been made with regard to any releases,” Nuland told reporters.