Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday suspended talks with the US on a new security deal to protest the way his government was being left out of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban meant to find a way to end the nearly 12-year war.
The move by Karzai raises tensions significantly and could derail the peace process even before it has begun.
In a terse statement from his office, Karzai said negotiations with the US on what US and coalition security forces will remain in the country after next year have been put on hold.
The deal was expected to define the future of US troops in Afghanistan and also pave the way for billions in aid to the Afghan economy.
Karzai’s statement followed an announcement on Tuesday by the US and the Taliban that they would pursue bilateral talks in Qatar before the Afghan government was brought in.
“In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and US delegations on the bilateral security agreement,” Karzai’s statement said.
His spokesman was not immediately reachable for questions, and the US embassy in Kabul said it had no immediate comment.
Though the Taliban have dismissed Karzai as a US puppet for years, they indicated on Tuesday when opening a new political office in Doha, Qatar, that they would be willing to talk with the Afghan leader.
However, both the US side and the Taliban said they would first meet together before any talks with the Afghan government.
In another incident highlighting the fragile situation in Afghanistan, only hours after announcing they would hold talks with the US, the Taliban claimed responsibility yesterday for an attack on the Bagram Air Base in which four US troops were killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgents fired two rockets into the base outside Kabul late on Tuesday. US officials confirmed the base had come under attack by indirect fire — likely a mortar or rocket — and that four US troops were killed.
Also on Tuesday, five Afghan police officers were killed at a security outpost in Helmand Province by apparent Taliban infiltrators — the latest in a string of so-called “insider attacks” that have shaken the confidence of the nascent Afghan security forces.
The opening of a Taliban political office in Doha with the intention of starting peace talks was a reversal of months of failed efforts to start negotiations while Taliban militants intensified a campaign targeting urban centers and government installations across Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama said that the peace talks with the Taliban would be neither quick nor easy, but that their opening a political office in Doha was an “important first step toward reconciliation” between the Islamic militants and the government of Afghanistan.
In setting up the office, the Taliban said they were willing to use all legal means to end what they called the occupation of Afghanistan — but did not say they would immediately stop fighting.