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Karzai is ready for Taliban talks: US

June 26, 2013

ISLAMABAD, June 25: US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins said here on Tuesday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was ready for engaging with the Taliban leadership and it was for the group to decide whether it wanted to hold talks.

“President Karzai is ready to move forward and both of us (Afghan government and the US) are on the same page on this issue. We are waiting to see if they (Taliban) are interested in talking,” Ambassador Dobbins told reporters at the US embassy after his discussions with Pakistani leaders on salvaging the dialogue process that stumbled over the name of the Taliban office in Doha and a flag hoisted at the compound by the group.

Mr Dobbins, who had arrived here from Afghanistan, met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Foreign Affairs and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani at the Prime Minister’s Office.

He was told that Pakistan had high stakes in peace and stability in Afghanistan and remained committed to being helpful.

Prime Minister Sharif later rang up President Karzai to explain Pakistan’s stance on the row and renew his government’s promise to assist the peace initiative.

The opening last week of the Taliban office, where the group raised a flag and put up a plaque inscribed with ‘Political office of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, drew criticism from Kabul and President Karzai immediately cancelled plans for an Afghan peace delegation to travel to Qatar, besides suspending talks with the US over a bilateral security pact.

The US moved to appease him and got the Qatari government to remove both controversial signs and Mr Dobbins travelled to Kabul to do the explaining. The Afghan government was satisfied with the removal of the plaque, flag and flagpole from the office, but sought explanations before agreeing to join the process.

“The US had opposed the name and flag even before Karzai said anything because they were inconsistent with the assurances given to us. We believe there was genuine misunderstanding or Taliban may have tried to stage a propaganda coup in an exaggerated manner,” the envoy said.

The Taliban, he said, were “absorbing the development” and the US was waiting to see if they were still interested in talking.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen had said that the group had not changed its position on the matter and insisted that the Qatari government had initially agreed to both the name and the flag.

Mr Dobbins said it might take weeks for the talks to start even though the US and Afghan government were ready to begin immediately.

He said Afghanistan had changed in many ways and the Taliban knew that they could not turn the clock back. “Taliban may still be militarily significant, but not dominant.”

He was sceptical if the process could yield peace till the completion of foreign forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan by December next year.

He said it was up to the Afghans to discuss the future of their country. The US on its part would, however, be interested in talking about Taliban’s relations with Al Qaeda.

APP/AFP add: The prime minister assured the US envoy of Pakistan’s full commitment to an Afghan-led and -owned peace process and highlighted various steps it had taken in the regard.

Noting that the situation in Afghanistan had reached a crucial phase as the US proceeded with its drawdown, he stressed the need for Pakistan and the United States to remain closely engaged.

Ambassador Dobbins briefed the prime minister about developments relating to bilateral relations as well as efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. He elaborated on some recent developments, including the opening of the Taliban office, events within Afghanistan and the overall situation in the region.

Officials said the focus of the US envoy’s visit was on “efforts to promote an Afghan-led reconciliation process”.

A statement issued by the US embassy said Mr Dobbins had expressed “great appreciation” for the role Pakistan had played in supporting and helping advance the peace process.

“Ambassador Dobbins reiterated the US commitment to working with the new democratically-elected government of Pakistan to build a strong, mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.”

Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a video released to the media that the insurgents would follow any decision taken by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

“Mullah Omar is our Amir (chief) and we will abide by any decision he takes regarding peace talks with America,” he said.