Agence France Presse
Published — Monday 1 April 2013
Last update 1 April 2013 3:12 am
DOHA: Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks yesterday with the emir of Qatar during a visit to discuss opening a Taleban office in the Gulf state, as a prelude to possible peace negotiations with the militants.
Karzai discussed “issues of mutual interest” with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, state news agency QNA said, without giving details of the meeting in Doha city.
The Afghan president previously opposed a Taleban office in Qatar since he feared that his government would be frozen out of any future peace deal involving the Islamic extremists and the United States.
The militants refuse to have direct contact with Karzai, saying he is a puppet of the United States, which supported his rise to power after the military operation to oust the Taleban from Kabul in 2001.
But with US-led NATO combat troops due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Karzai recently backed the proposed office in Doha and his office said he would raise the plan.
Any future peace talks still face numerous hurdles before they begin, including confusion over who would represent the Taleban and Karzai’s insistence that his appointees should be at the center of negotiations.
“We will discuss the peace process, of course, and the opening of an office for the Taleban in Qatar,” presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP before Karzai left Kabul on Saturday. “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,” Faizi added.
Kabul has repeatedly stressed that it will only start talks if the militants break all links with Al-Qaeda and give up violence, and Faizi said any Taleban office in Qatar must be subject to strict conditions.
“It can only be an address where the armed opposition sit and talk to the Afghanistan government,” he said. “This office cannot be used for any other purposes.”
Karzai met Qatari investors on Saturday evening and encouraged them to invest in the country as it works to secure stability before NATO-led combat forces withdraw next year.
“The future of Afghanistan is guaranteed because our relations have expanded with America and other countries such as China, India and Russia,” he said according to an e-mailed statement.
“Afghanistan has good opportunities and resources that we can share with you.”
The United Nations last week welcomed news that Karzai would visit Qatar, and issued another call for the Taleban to come to the negotiating table.
But a Qatar office could mean little if the Taleban continue to refuse to negotiate with Karzai or with the government-appointed High Peace Council.
“The opening of the Taleban office in Qatar is not related to Karzai, it is a matter between the Taleban and the Qatar government,” Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.