The Afghan Taliban and the US have been holding talks in the Gulf state of Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday.
The Taliban suspended the talks one year ago, blaming “shaky, erratic and vague” US statements.
The US 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.
However, the Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied that negotiations with the US had resumed and said no progress had been made since they were suspended.
“The Taliban strongly rejects Karzai’s comments,” he said.
US 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 US-led NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of next year.
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.
US 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.
Karzai said two suicide bombings that killed 19 people on Saturday — one outside the Afghan Defense Ministry and the other near a police checkpoint in eastern Khost Province — show the insurgent group is conducting attacks to help show that international forces will still be needed to keep the peace after their current combat mission ends next year.
“The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday 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,” he said.
Karzai is known for making incendiary comments in his public speeches, a move that is often attributed to him trying to appeal to those who sympathize with the Taliban or as a way to gain leverage when he feels his international allies are ignoring his country’s sovereignty. In previous speeches he has threatened to join the Taliban and called his NATO allies occupiers who want to plunder Afghanistan’s resources.
His latest remarks come as his government is negotiating a pact with the US for the long-term presence of American forces in Afghanistan and just days after an agreement to transfer the US prison outside of Kabul to Afghan authority fell through. His comments also came while US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is making his first visit to Afghanistan since becoming the Pentagon chief.
Karzai said in his speech that any foreign powers that want to keep troops in Afghanistan need to do so under conditions set forward by Afghanistan.
“We will tell them where we need them, and under which conditions. They must respect our laws. They must respect the national sovereignty of our country and must respect all our customs,” Karzai said.