ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai ruled out on Tuesday an early resumption of talks with the Taliban after a summit meeting with Pakistan which appeared to yield no breakthrough on a bitter rift between the two neighbors.
Karzai’s comments could undercut U.S. efforts to pick up the threads of talks ruptured by the assassination in September of Afghan peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace emissary.
“We cannot keep talking to suicide bombers, therefore we have stopped talking about talking to the Taliban until we have an address for the Taliban ... until that day we have said we will be talking to our brothers in Pakistan to find a solution to the problem that we have,” he said.
Shortly after Rabbani’s assassination, Karzai had said there was no point talking to the insurgents and therefore it was best to talk directly with the Pakistanis — accused by Afghanistan of giving the Taliban safe haven and support.
His reiteration of that comment while speaking at a news conference alongside Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari suggested that the talks hosted by Turkey in Istanbul had failed to ease tensions between Kabul and Islamabad.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of supporting Taliban insurgents who have launched a string of attacks in recent months as the United States and its allies prepare to pull out most combat troops by the end of 2014.
Afghanistan has also said that Rabbani’s killer was sent from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where it says some of the Taliban leadership is based.
The talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan - their first since Rabbani’s assassination - were meant to smoothe the way for a broader conference on Wednesday, to which other countries including India and those with troops fighting in the 10-year Afghan war have been invited.
The United States has made clear it is still open to reaching an accord with those insurgents who are willing to sever ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and respect the Afghan constitution — though it insists it will fight them while also pursuing talks.
Pakistan has long pushed for talks with the insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan which is increasingly spilling over into Pakistani territory. Its critics accuse it of backing insurgents to extend its own influence over Afghanistan and counter rival India.
Both the United States and Pakistan have said that talks with insurgents should be an Afghan-led process. Pakistan also insists it is being used as a scapegoat for the failure of U.S.-led troops to bring stability to Afghanistan.
“The situation in the region is a very complex one ... the NATO armies, the world armies have been there for the last 10 years. If it was such an easy issue they would have solved it, the fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has always been known as the graveyard of empires,” Zardari told the news conference.
“Obviously there are interest groups, obviously there are non-state actors, whenever we go three steps forward some state actor, non-state actor or some interest group moves in.”
Karzai’s comments, however, suggested he was in no mood to relent on his earlier assertion that Taliban talks were pointless — though the summit was attended by the army and intelligence chiefs of Afghanistan and Pakistan along with their foreign and interior ministers.
“We have been hurt badly, our desire for peace has been either misunderstood or misused and we have learnt a lesson from the manner in which we pursued the peace process,” Karzai said.
At Tuesday’s talks, Afghanistan urged Pakistan to take concrete steps to curb Islamist militants who it said were a threat to both countries.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told reporters the two neighbors had been trying for several years to build trust “but I think we have failed to see results on the ground.”
“So we are at a stage where we need to move beyond words, beyond expressions of commitments. We need to get to a stage where we actually do concrete things that will address our concerns with regards to our security,” he said.
Ludin said Islamabad’s cooperation was vital to the security of Afghanistan but also to Pakistan, which has also faced a wave of bombings by the Pakistani Taliban.
“So the message we are really bringing today is to tell Pakistan, ‘Look, you’re not doing us a favor by helping with bringing peace and security to Afghanistan ... It’s a question of peace and security in Pakistan that’s also suffering at the hands of terrorism.’”
Islamabad, which denies supporting the Taliban, has complained in turn that insurgents from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, have been using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks in Pakistan.
Ludin also said Afghanistan wanted Pakistan to deal with the Haqqani network — a powerful insurgent group which says it owes allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, but has traditionally been seen as close to the ISI.
Former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has accused the Haqqani network of acting as “a veritable arm” of the ISI and blamed it for an attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul shortly before Rabbani’s assassination.
Pakistan denies supporting the Haqqani network and attributes its lack of action against the group to the fact that its army is already overstretched fighting Pakistani Taliban militants and others.
A senior U.S. administration official said on Monday that Pakistani action against the Haqqani network did not necessarily need to be military.
Instead it would include “ensuring that intelligence doesn’t go to the Haqqani network” and “that they don’t benefit from financial resources or flow of finances.”
Editing by Tim Pearce