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Afghan Peace Bid Stumbles On Kabul-Taliban Protocol Row

posted 20 Jun 2013, 15:04 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 20 Jun 2013, 15:05 ]

A diplomatic spat about the Afghanistan Taliban's new political office in Qatar delays preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents.

DOHAQATAR (JUNE 18, 2013) (REUTERS) -  The Afghan Taliban opened an office in Qatar on Tuesday (June 18) ahead of planned talks to end Afghanistan's 12-year-old war.

Qatar's Assistant Minister for External Affairs Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri joined Talibanrepresentatives at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the so-called "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in Doha.

Talks between U.S. officials and representatives of the Taliban had been set for Thursday (June 20) in Qatar. But Afghan government anger at the fanfare surrounding the opening of the Taliban office in the Gulf state threw preparations into confusion.

A diplomatic spat about the Taliban's new Qatar office delayed preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents.

The squabble may set the tone for what could be long and arduous negotiations to end a war that has raged since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. targets.

Asked when the talks would now take place, a source in Doha said "There is nothing scheduled that I am aware of." Asked if that meant they would not happen today, the source added: "Yes that's correct."

The opening of the office was a practical step paving the way for peace talks. But the official-looking protocol surrounding the event raised angry protests in Kabulthat the office would develop into a Taliban government-in-exile: A diplomatic scramble ensued to allay their concerns.

Taliban flag that had been hoisted at the Taliban office on Tuesday had been taken down and lay on the ground on Thursday, although it appeared still attached to a flagpole.

A name plate, inscribed with the title "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" had also been removed from the wall surrounding the compound and placed inside the compound.

Word of the U.S.-Taliban talks had raised hopes that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government and the Taliban might enter their first-ever direct negotiations on Afghanistan's future, with Washington acting as a broker and Pakistan as a major outside player.

The Taliban has until now refused talks with Kabul, calling Karzai and his government puppets of the West. But a senior Afghan official said earlier theTaliban was now willing to consider talks with the government.