Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Karzai heads to Qatar for Taliban talks: office

AP and AFP, KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai traveled to Qatar yesterday to discuss Taliban militants opening an office in the Gulf state for peace talks that could end more than a decade of war, his office said.

Until earlier this year, Karzai was strongly opposed to the Islamist extremists having a meeting venue outside Afghanistan as he feared that his government would be frozen out of any negotiations.

The militants refuse to have direct contact with Karzai, saying he is a puppet of the US, which has supported his rise to power after the military operation to oust the Taliban in 2001.

With NATO-led combat troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year, Karzai agreed to the proposed Taliban office in Qatar and is expected to firm up the plan with the emir of Qatar today.

Any future peace talks still face numerous hurdles before they begin, including confusion over who would represent the Taliban and Karzai’s insistence that his appointees are at the centre of negotiations.

“We will discuss the peace process, of course, and the opening of an office for the Taliban in Qatar,” presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said before Karzai left Kabul with several senior members of his government.

“If we want to have talks to bring peace to Afghanistan, the main side must be the Afghan government’s representatives — the High Peace Council, which has members from all the country’s ethnic and political backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, a senior US commander says US special operations forces have handed over their base in eastern Afghanistan’s Nirkh District to local Afghan commandos — meeting a demand by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US forces withdraw from the district after allegations that their Afghan counterparts committed human rights abuses there.

Major General Tony Thomas, who is the top US special operations commander in Afghanistan, said yesterday that Afghan special forces have taken the Americans’ place and will work alongside local Afghan police to keep insurgents from using the area to attack the capital, Kabul.

Thomas said US commandos will continue to operate throughout the rest of Wardak Province.

Afghan security officials reached yesterday were not yet aware of the change.

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