Afghan Taliban suspend peace talks with US

Group says “erratic” US did not keep promises, while President Hamid Karzai demands foreign troops pull out of villages.

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The Afghan Taliban have announced the suspension of all negotiations with the United States, talks that had been seeking an end to the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time,” the armed group said in a statement on Thursday.

The statement said the US had continued to change the terms of the negotiations and had presented a “list of conditions” in their latest meeting that was in contradiction to earlier arrangements.

Also on Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded foreign troops pull out of villages, another blow to the US military presence in the country.

Karzai’s demand came days after a US soldier’s pre-dawn shooting spree in southern Kandahar province left 16 civilians dead.

The soldier, an army staff sergeant, was flown out out of Afghanistan to Kuwait on Wednesday.

“Our demand is that this process should be executed sharply and the responsibility should be handed over to Afghans,” Karzai said in a statement after meeting with Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence.

Karzai added that both sides “should work towards completing the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2013, and not the announced date of 2014”.

A US defence official told Reuters news agency the US does not believe Karzai is seeking immediate pull out from villages.

“There is a schedule for security transition…and President Karzai did not ask for any change in the current schedule (at the meeting),” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to reporters traveling with Panetta.

Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson, said “NATO remains committed to enabling the Afghan security forces to take full responsibility for security as soon as practically possible.”

‘Spiralling downward’

According to reports, the Taliban’s pre-condition that five of their high-ranking officials be released from US detention in Guantanamo Bay seems to have halted any progress in peace talks.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Kabul, said the Taliban had expected the release of the high-ranking prisoners by now and it seems that they have given up on that happening.

“I think from the US perspective, you have to see things going from bad to worse in their Afghan policy. All recent events point to a spiralling downward, including the Quran burning incident and then the killings of the 16 villagers, now Karzai is asking the US remove troops.

“There is sense that the US [policy] is heading to some sort of disarray at the moment.”

The Taliban announced the opening of a political office in Qatar in January, what was considered a major step in reaching a compromise agreement to end the 10-year war.

Karzai showed little support for the announcement, but eventually endorsed the move.

“The Americans initially agreed upon taking practical steps regarding the exchange of prisoners and to not oppose our political office but with the passage of time, they turned their backs on their promises,” the Taliban statement said.

“An American representative presented a list of conditions in his latest meeting with the Islamic Emirate which were not only unacceptable but also in contradiction with the earlier agreed upon points.”

Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said the situation has certainly raised concerns for US officials.

“One thing the officials will be looking at is whether this is a critical blow to the overall peace process about working a reconciliation deal,” she said.

“Is this just political posturing on the part of the Taliban, or whether there are deeper problems in the initial stages of confidence building.”

Source: News Agencies