KABUL (Reuters) - Afghans must lead any peace negotiations to end the war in their country, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday, in a swipe at Qatar after reports that the Gulf state had agreed to set up an unofficial Taliban embassy.
Kabul recalled its ambassador to Qatar on Wednesday, hours after an Indian newspaper reported that final arrangements had been put in place for a Taliban office with “the privileges but not the formal protection of a diplomatic mission.”
Qatari and U.S. officials agreed the office with a Taliban representative, the report in The Hindu newspaper said, citing unnamed Indian diplomatic sources. Washington is keen to seek a political settlement to an expensive, decade-long war, but officials insist that process must be Afghan-led.
A spokesman for Karzai, long an advocate of peace talks with insurgents, confirmed on Thursday that the recall had been prompted by concerns his government was being excluded.
“Recently there were some efforts outside Afghanistan with some countries that wanted to continue the peace process or negotiations with the armed opposition alone or...without taking consultations from Afghanistan,” said spokesman Aimal Faizi.
“The aim of recalling our ambassador from Qatar was to discuss this issue,” he added.
“We oppose any kind of negotiations where delegation or delegations of Afghanistan have no leading role and emphasize that any kind of negotiations must be led by Afghans.”
Faizi also said Afghanistan was concerned that any office was just intended as an address to help negotiators verify the identity of anyone claiming to represent the Taliban, rather than as a base to build political clout.
The call for an address came after a series of failed efforts by Afghans and their Western allies, some of them with interlocutors who turned out to be frauds.
These culminated in the September assassination of Karzai’s top peace envoy by a man accepted as a Taliban representative.
Since then Karzai has been more ambivalent about talks.
He ruled out an early resumption in negotiations and said Afghanistan would talk only to Pakistan “until we have an address for the Taliban.”
Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of supporting the Taliban, and has said that the killer of peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani was sent from the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Karzai met on Thursday with senior leaders including former Mujahideen commanders, religious figures and top government officials, to discuss the future of talks.
The group agreed that any Taliban office should ideally be in Afghanistan, but if that was not possible, it said, other nations would make a better location than Qatar.
“If the situation is not yet suitable for such an office it should be in an Islamic country, preferably in Saudi Arabia or Turkey,” the presidential palace said in statement summarizing the conclusions of the meeting.
The group also called for a halt in fighting before any peace talks start, a demand that if taken seriously would be a huge hindrance to efforts to seek a political end to the war.
“The participants also reiterated that before the start of peace negotiations, war and violence against the people of Afghanistan must be stopped,” the statement said.
It did not disclose Karzai’s specific views about the office or whether fighting should end before talks start.
Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Alistair Lyon