US envoy in Kabul to revive peace process
KABUL - Agence France-PresseUS envoy James Dobbins arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for talks with President Hamid Karzai, as Washington worked to put peace efforts back on track after a dispute over the rebels' new office in Qatar.
Karzai reacted furiously to the office being styled as a Taliban government-in-exile under the rebels' white flag and using the formal name of the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan" from their hardline 1996-2001 regime.
The opening of the Qatar office last Tuesday was intended as a first step towards a peace deal as the US-led NATO combat mission winds down 12 years after the Taliban were ousted after the 9/11 attacks.
Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, landed in Kabul a day after the Afghan government said a written agreement with the US about how the Qatar office should operate had been broken.
A statement from the US embassy said that Dobbins and Karzai would discuss "the reconciliation process which President (Barack) Obama and President Karzai agreed is the surest way to a lasting peace".
Kabul, which said it was still committed to the peace process, insisted the Qatar office must only be used for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
"After these meetings (with Dobbins), our information will be complete and we can then decide whether to send our delegation to Qatar," Ismael Qasimyar, a senior member of the Afghan peace negotiators, told AFP. On Monday, Afghanistan said that the contentious sign, flag and flagpole had been removed from the building in the Qatari capital Doha.
Dobbins, a veteran diplomat who re-opened the US embassy after the 2001 fall of the Taliban, is also likely to try to revive separate talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after next year.
Karzai, who has so far refused to send representatives to Qatar, broke off negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in reaction to the Taliban office.
Mohammed Naeem, a Qatar-based spokesman for the Taliban, said Monday that the flag and sign unveiled at an opening ceremony had been agreed with Qatar -- but not with the United States.
On Saturday, Kerry attempted to placate Afghanistan by warning that Washington could call on the Taliban to close the office if they failed to live up to their side of peace efforts.
About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them American, are due to withdraw by the end of 2014, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces last week.
When in power, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Sunni Islamic law that banned television, music and cinema, stopped girls from going to school and forced women to wear the all-covering burqa.
They were ousted in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, but launched a resilient and bloody insurgency against US-led NATO troops and the US-backed Afghan government.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was also in Kabul on Monday to meet Karzai and 850 French soldiers still deployed in the city, mainly at the airport and hospital.