The Afghan government has said it will boycott talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, until the process is “Afghan-led”.
“As long as the peace process is not Afghan-led, the High Peace Council will not participate in the talks in Qatar,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement on Wednesday, referring to a body he set up in 2010 to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
The announcement came hours after Afghanistan, upset over what it called the US’ “inconsistent statement and action” over the peace process with the Taliban, said it was suspending security negotiations with Washington.
Wednesday’s developments came a day after the US said it would engage in direct negotiations with the Taliban, who officially opened a political office in Doha a day earlier.
“The president suspended the BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement] talks with the US this morning,” Aimal Faizi, President Karzai’s spokesman, said.
“There is a contradiction between what the US government says and what it does regarding Afghanistan peace talks,” Faizi told AFP.
The BSA is meant to provide a strategic framework for US troops to remain in the country after its troops formally exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014. It will finalise issues such as the number of troops to remain, where they will be based and under what terms they will operate.
Faizi said that Karzai particularly objected to “the name of the [Taliban’s] office” in the Qatari capital.
“We oppose the title the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ because such a thing doesn’t exist,” Faizi said. “The US was aware of the president’s stance.”
Meanwhile, the Taliban said it would continue to target the US military in Afghanistan, undeterred by US moves to hold direct negotiations with it .
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said his group will not change their tactics or objectives.
The Taliban threat rang true as the armed group claimed responsibility for an attack on the Bagram air base, a major hub for US aircraft about 47km north of Kabul, that killed four US soldiers on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson reporting from the Afghan capital said that the US can still go ahead with talks with the Taliban and without the Afghan government.
“But without the Afghan government there then post-2014 peace is put in jeopardy”, Ferguson said, adding that the long-term strategy was to get both groups to talk.
The US is cautiously optimistic of the Taliban peace talks
The US military presence in Afghanistan is roughly 66,000 troops, after having reached a peak of about 100,000 forces.
US officials cautioned that the peace process would likely be messy and has no guarantee of success.
“It’s going to be a long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all,” a senior US official said.
Meanwhile, the NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday completed handing over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country.
NATO plans to end all combat operations in Afghanistan by December 2014.