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Karzai meets emir of Qatar for peace talks

Afghan president and Qatari emir discussed opening of office for Taliban in Doha which could help broker an end to war.

Last Modified: 31 Mar 2013 18:27
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Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has met with the emir of Qatar to discuss plans for the Taliban to open an office in the Gulf state.

He discussed "issues of mutual interest" with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the state news agency QNA said, without elaborating on the substanec of their talks. The meeting was also attended by the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani.

He also held talks with Qatar's ambassador to Pakistan during a tour of an Islamic art museum in Doha.

Karzai arrived in Qatar on Saturday and also met with Afghan and Arab officials and businessmen. The delegation traveling with the Afghan president includes Zalmai Rassoul, the foreign minister; Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council; and Rangin Dadfar Spanta, a presidential advisor.

Until earlier this year, Karzai was strongly opposed to the Taliban having a meeting venue outside Afghanistan, but the US has pushed for the Taliban to be present at the negotiatiing table as that country prepares to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in the next two years.

"If we want to have talks to bring peace to Afghanistan, the main side must be the Afghan government's representatives - the High Peace Council, which has members from all the country's ethnic and political backgrounds," Aimal Faizi, a Karzai spokesperson said.

Kabul has repeatedly stressed that it would only start talks if the fighters broke all links with al-Qaeda and gave up violence.

Faizi said any Taliban office in Qatar must be held to strict conditions.

"If Karzai visits, it is not our concern. Our representatives who are already in Qatar won't see or talk to him. "

- Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban 

"It can only be an address where the armed opposition sit and talk to the Afghanistan government," he said. "This office can not be used for any other purposes."

'Not our concern'

The UN this week welcomed Karzai's Qatar visit, and issued another call for the Taliban to come to the peace table.

"You are Afghans, you care, I assume, about your country, you care about [a] peaceful stable future of the country," Jan Kubis, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, said.

But the Qatar office could mean little if the Taliban refuse to negotiate with Karzai or the government-appointed High Peace Council.

The Taliban have refused to have direct contact with Karzai, saying he was a puppet of the United States, which has supported his rise to power after the military operation to oust the fighters in 2001.

"The opening of the Taliban office in Qatar is not related to Karzai, it is a matter between the Taliban and the Qatar government," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

"If Karzai visits, it is not our concern. Our representatives who are already in Qatar won't see or talk to him."

In Afghanistan, an air strike by a NATO helicopter has killed one child and several suspected Taliban fighters in the southeast.

The aircraft came to support Afghan troops who were attacked near the town of Ghazni. At least 13 people were wounded.

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