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Long-held Afghan fears lie behind rejection of US-Taliban talks

A security guard stands outside the Afghan Taliban Political Office after the official opening in Doha, Qatar, on June 18.


KABUL, Afghanistan — Peace talks aimed at ending the nearly 12 years war in Afghanistan showed no sign of moving forward on Sunday, with the Taliban and Afghan government each blaming other parties for negotiations breaking down before they had even started. 

Afghanistan’s government has said it won’t proceed until there is an explanation for the way in which the Taliban opened its first overseas office.

The building in Qatar was supposed to be the venue for a major diplomatic breakthrough — somewhere the United States and the Taliban could hold their first open peace negotiations. That quickly unraveled when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan withdrew his support after seeing the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

Taliban delegates were flying their flag and standing in front of a sign reading the “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. wants to see proposed peace talks with the Taliban "get back on track" after being thrown into doubt this week amid a diplomatic dispute with the Afghan government. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

It seemed to confirm the Afghan leader’s long-held fears that the office would be used by the Taliban to present themselves as a government-in-exile.

The flag has since been lowered and the sign changed, but the Afghan government still won’t commit to attending the talks.

His reaction reflected the deep suspicion many in Afghanistan feel about the Taliban’s motives.  The Islamic fundamentalist group that ruled much of Afghanistan until it was toppled by U.S.-backed forces in 2001 has not renounced violence, with civilians largely bearing the brunt of the conflict.  According to the United Nations in Afghanistan, more than 3,000 were killed or wounded by insurgents in the first six months of the year, up 24 percent on the same period last year.

Sitting in one of Kabul’s tea shops, a group of students said they were unsure the Taliban are serious about peace.

“If they’re ready they have to stop killing innocent people,” said one of the students who only gave his name as Mansoor. “They have to stop suicide bombings.”

Sonia Eqbal from the independent grassroots pressure group, Afghanistan 1400, said it was inevitable that Karzai would have to publicly object.

“It is not happening directly with Afghans,” she said. “It is really sad to see how it has begun.” 

The Afghan government wants a full explanation from the United States for apparent broken promises, Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said.

“We are engaged with the U.S. government to find out why the written assurances given to us were breached, why the office was established the way it was launched and to see how we might be able to put this back on track,” he said.

The Afghan government is trying to ensure it has a greater role if peace talks finally begin. While attention has been focused on the Taliban’s office décor, the underlying concern was that the United States and the Taliban were going to start negotiating alone.

Meanwhile, some members of the Taliban negotiating team are now angry at having made concessions.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Dr. Muhammad Naeem said they had the permission of the Qatari government to use their flag and the Islamic Emirate sign and denied any agreement to the contrary had been made with the Unites States.

“No such agreement has been signed, nor does such an agreement exist,” Naeem said.  

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