U.S. envoy heads to Afghanistan to restart peace efforts
US envoy James Dobbins was set for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul later Monday, officials said, as Washington works to put peace efforts back on track after a dispute over the rebels’ new office in Qatar.
Karzai reacted furiously to the office being styled as a Taliban government-in-exile under the white flag and using the formal name of the “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from their hardline 1996-2001 regime.
The opening of the Qatar office last Tuesday was intended as a first step towards a peace deal as the US-led NATO combat mission winds down 12 years after the Taliban were ousted after the 9/11 attacks.
Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was due in Kabul a day after the Afghan government said a written agreement with the US about how the Qatar office should operate had been broken.
Kabul, which said it was still committed to the peace process, insisted the office was only used for direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
On Monday, it confirmed that the contentious sign, flag and flagpole had been removed from the building in the Qatari capital Doha.
“He (Dobbins) is going to come and meet the president today,” a palace official in Kabul told AFP.
Western officials in Kabul confirmed that Dobbins, who was in Qatar with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, was due in Afghanistan, but declined to give any schedule.
The veteran diplomat, who re-opened the US embassy after the 2001 fall of the Taliban, is also likely to try to revive separate talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after next year.
Karzai, who has refused to send representatives to Qatar, broke off negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in reaction to the Taliban office.
While in Qatar, Kerry attempted to placate Afghanistan by warning that Washington could call on the Taliban to close the office if they failed to live up to their side of peace efforts.
About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them from the US, are due to withdraw by the end of 2014, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces last week.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]