Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Afghans quit talks with Taliban before they begin

KABUL, Afghanistan — Less than a day after the Taliban opened a new political office in Qatar, the prospects for peace talks that it represented for war-weary Afghanistan faltered.

The Afghan government said Wednesday that it wouldn't send representatives to Qatar after all, and that it was suspending talks with the United States over a key military pact. The problem: When the Taliban unveiled the new office, a banner made it clear that they were calling themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

That's the name the Taliban used for Afghanistan during their rule over much of the country from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and their use of it suggests that they're claiming to be the true government.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not amused. Just before the Taliban office in Qatar opened Tuesday, Karzai had said he planned to send members of his High Peace Council there to speak for Afghanistan. But the council announced Wednesday that it wouldn't negotiate with the Taliban while they were operating under that name.

"We oppose the title of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan because such a thing does not exist," Karzai's chief spokesman, Aimal Faizi, tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

President Barack Obama, who was traveling in Europe on Wednesday, downplayed the rift and said he hoped that peace talks would proceed. At a news conference in Germany, he said the United States had anticipated "some areas of friction, to put it mildly."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry placed phone calls to Karzai late Tuesday and early Wednesday in an attempt to mend fences. He told Karzai that the United States also doesn't recognize the name Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and that the sign in Qatar has been removed.

The talks had been expected to open today with preliminary discussions between the Taliban and the United States, but they're on hold as the U.S. consults with the Afghan government, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Afghan representatives had been scheduled to arrive a few days later.

The Afghan government also announced that was suspending discussions with the United States over the terms of a bilateral security agreement that would set down specifics of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after all combat troops in the NATO-led coalition depart at the end of 2014.

U.S. officials had said Tuesday that they were hopeful about the chances for a negotiated political settlement to the nearly 12-year war, but many also were careful to say that it was hardly a sure thing.

Continuing violence in Afghanistan also undercut talk of peace. The Taliban claimed credit Wednesday for an overnight rocket attack on the largest NATO base, Bagram airfield, north of Kabul. The NATO-led coalition confirmed that indirect fire had killed four of its troops but it didn't immediately release their nationality.

Obama acknowledged the ongoing war and "enormous mistrust" between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but said that the United States, even as it continued to train Afghan security forces, believed that "you've got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of some sort of political reconciliation."

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