x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Afghanistan, US reaffirm support for Taliban peace deal

Kabul and Washington reaffirmed yesterday that, despite attacks on a CIA base and the Afghan presidency on Tuesday, they would continue to seek peace with the Taliban to end a row over the Islamists' office in Qatar.

KABUL // Kabul and Washington reaffirmed yesterday that, despite attacks on a CIA base and the Afghan presidency on Tuesday, they would continue to seek peace with the Taliban to end a row over the Islamists' office in Qatar.

The president of the United States, Barack Obama, and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, yesterday held a 90-minute conference call to try to revive early efforts to start peace talks as Nato troops prepared for a withdrawal in 2014 after more than 12 years of conflict with the Taliban.

The level of violence still raging in Afghanistan was highlighted when the Taliban launched an assault in the heart of Kabul in which three security guards and all five assailants were killed.

Gunmen and bombers using fake Nato identification attacked an entrance to the Afghan presidential palace and a nearby building known to house a CIA base in one of the most brazen assaults in Kabul since Mr Karzai narrowly escaped assassination in April 2008.

Tentative steps towards talks were wrecked last week when a new Taliban office in Qatar provoked anger from Afghanistan and the US when it stylised itself as the embassy of a government-in-exile.

Mr Karzai refused to send representatives to Qatar and pulled out of separate talks on a security agreement with the US that would allow Washington to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

Washington launched an intense diplomatic effort to pacify Mr Karzai, with telephone calls and sending the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, for talks.

"Both presidents talked about the security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, the peace process and Taliban Qatar office," Mr Karzai's office said after the call with Mr Obama.

The US president appeared to have persuaded Mr Karzai to renew peace efforts after the Afghan leader's furious response to the Taliban's Qatar office opening under the formal name of the movement's hardline 1996-2001 regime.

It was reported that the two leaders agreed that "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region".

They also reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the (Afghan government's) High Peace Council and authorised representatives of the Taliban.

Mr Dobbins said on Monday that Washington had also been "outraged" at how the Taliban opened the office, which had been intended to help foster a peace deal to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Taliban hoisted the rebel group's white flag and referred to themselves as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan".

The Afghan government insists the Taliban's office in Qatar must only be used for direct talks with Mr Karzai's appointed negotiators.

Mr Karzai has previously opposed direct contacts between the Taliban and the US, which had focused on a prisoner exchange until the rebels' suspended the talks last year.