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December 1, 2020

Afghans reject Taliban talks moves

Afghan officials have said the removal of the flag and nameplate from the Taliban’s Qatar office is not enough, the BBC reported Thursday. Afghan peace negotiators say the office is meant only for peace talks and they are unhappy with Taliban statements. “It is a kind of Taliban establishment which we don’t want,” Muhammad Ismael Qasemyar, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, told the BBC.
The comments come after US Secretary of State John Kerry rang President Hamid Karzai to defuse tensions. He told the president the Taliban’s office in Qatar was removing the flag, and that the sign designating the building as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan would be replaced by one saying Bureau of Peace Talks. On Wednesday Mr Karzai said Afghan negotiators would boycott the Qatar talks until “foreign powers” allowed the process to be run by Afghans. He also suspended security talks with the US on the American presence in Afghanistan after Nato leaves in 2014.
In a separate development, a Taliban spokesman in Doha has told the Associated press news agency that the militants are ready to hand over a US soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five senior Taliban members held at the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Mr Qasemyar said negotiators objected to the statement made by the Taliban when the office was established, which had indicated they would have relations with external bodies such as the UN. “Unless our demands are accepted, we are not going to take part in Qatar talks,” he said.
Correspondents say that the Qatar office, which was opened on Tuesday, means the Taliban are no longer only a fighting group, but have a political arm too.However this current dispute centres on the precise nature and powers of this office, and is just one indication of how fraught with difficulty this fledgling talks process will be. The first formal meeting between US and Taliban representatives is expected to take place in the coming days but it is now unclear what role Afghan officials will play in this.
The opening of the Taliban office happened on the same day that Nato handed over security for the whole of Afghanistan to the Afghan government for the first time since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. This was something analysts said was necessary before talks could become a realistic possibility. But the Taliban have long insisted on the complete withdrawal of foreign forces as a pre-condition to becoming part of a political settlement. Nato’s combat troops are due to leave the country by the end of 2014, but the US plans to station a few thousand forces after that as part of a bilateral security agreement. Details about this are still to be agreed by Kabul and Washington.

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