Taliban, US revive talks in Qatar says Karzai
Kabul, March 10, 2013
The Afghan Taliban and the US have been holding talks in Qatar, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday, but the militant group and Washington denied they had resumed dialogue.
The Taliban suspended the talks one year ago, blaming "shaky, erratic and vague" US statements.
"Senior leaders of the Taliban and the Americans are engaged in talks in the Gulf state on a daily basis," Karzai told a gathering to mark International Women's Day.
The US government has said it remained committed to political reconciliation involving talks with the Taliban but progress would require agreement between the Afghan government and the insurgents.
"This is simply incorrect," said a US official, who declined to be identified, when asked about Karzai's remarks. "We continue to support an Afghan-led process of political reconciliation."
The Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid, also denied that negotiations with the US had resumed and said no progress had been made since they were suspended.
"The Taliban strongly rejects Karzai's comments," he said.
The Kabul government has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to the negotiating table before most US-led Nato combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
Afghan officials have not held direct talks with the militants, who were toppled in 2001 and have proven resilient after more than a decade of war with Western forces.
US diplomats have been seeking to broaden exploratory talks with the Taliban that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in Qatar.
Regional power Pakistan indicated a few months ago that it would support the peace process by releasing Afghan Taliban detainees who may help promote the peace process.
But there have been no tangible signs the move advanced reconciliation.
A day after two suicide bombings killed 17 people, Karzai also accused the US and the Taliban of colluding to convince Afghans that foreign forces were still needed to maintain peace in the country beyond next year.
The Afghan president has a history of making inflammatory remarks, particularly railing against the US with which he has a tense relationship.
The issue of US troop levels after next year's drawdown, when Washington will halve its 66,000 troop level, will be one of the main subjects on the agenda at talks between US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Karzai.
Hagel, who arrived on Friday for his first trip abroad as defense secretary, is due to meet Karzai during his stay.
Hagel's visit also coincides with the passing of a deadline imposed by Karzai for US special forces to leave the province of Wardak, after Karzai accused them of overseeing torture and killings in the area.
US forces have denied involvement in any abuses and it was not clear if they were leaving Wardak by the deadline. - Reuters