US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins was set for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul yesterday, officials said, as Washington worked to put peace efforts back on track after a dispute over the Taliban’s new office in Qatar.
Karzai reacted furiously to the office being styled as a Taliban government-in-exile under their white flag and using the formal name of the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from their 1996 to 2001 regime.
The opening of the Qatar office on Tuesday last week was intended as a first step toward a peace deal as the US-led NATO combat mission winds down 12 years after the Taliban were ousted after al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US.
Dobbins was due 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.
“He [Dobbins] is going to come and meet the president today,” a palace official in Kabul said.
Kabul, which said it was still committed to the peace process, insisted the office 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,” said Ismael Qasimyar, a senior Afghan peace negotiator.
Yesterday, Afghanistan said that the contentious sign, flag and flagpole had been removed from the building in the Qatari capital, Doha.
Western officials in Kabul confirmed that Dobbins, who was in Qatar with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, was to visit Afghanistan, but declined to disclose his schedule.
The veteran diplomat, who reopened 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 previously refused to send representatives to Qatar, broke off negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement in reaction to the Taliban office.
On Saturday, Kerry attempted to placate Afghanistan by saying 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 from the US, are due to withdraw by the end of next year, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces last week.