`Karzai concerned over role in Afghan peace talks`

The hardline Islamists announced this week that they planned to open an overseas political office.

Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned over being sidelined in US efforts to bring Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table, a government official
said on Thursday.

The hardline Islamists announced this week that they planned to open an overseas political office, a move seen as a precursor to talks to end the long and bloody war in Afghanistan.

A senior official in Karzai`s administration said that the Western-backed leader was unhappy over the process as it had not involved his government.

"Any peace process without Afghanistan`s government in the lead is meaningless," the official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"The US officials that we are in contact with say that once the office is set up and talks gets underway the lead will be given to Afghanistan`s government. Without that no talks could succeed," he said.

"But so far, the Afghan government has not been involved."

Yesterday Karzai`s office said it "agrees with the negotiations between US and Taliban that will end up in creating an office for Taliban in Qatar".

But the government official said it was essential that the Afghan government played a lead role in any peace talks. "We have said we agree with talks between Taliban and the United States. We have not said that we support this.”

"We only support a peace process that is led by the Afghan government."

The Taliban have said their counterpart in any peace talks would be Washington and its Western allies, excluding Karzai`s administration. The US and NATO have some 130,000 troops fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The Islamists have also demanded the release of Taliban prisoners held at the US-run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday Washington was "prepared to support" a proposed overseas Taliban office that backed an Afghan-led reconciliation process provided it met US and Afghan standards.

"With regard to Guantanamo... no decisions have been made with regard to any releases," Nuland told reporters.


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