Obama, Karzai commit to Taliban talks despite attack
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The White House said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai remain committed to holding talks with the Taliban at the group's Qatar office, despite a brazen assault by Taliban militants in Kabul earlier the same day.
US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed stalled peace talks with the Taliban on Tuesday, just hours after Kabul was rocked by a brazen assault by militants from the Islamist rebel group.
In a video conference call the two leaders “reaffirmed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” a White House statement read.
“They reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the [the Afghan government's] High Peace Council and authorized representatives of the Taliban.”
Obama appeared to have persuaded Karzai to renew peace efforts after the Afghan leader's furious response to the Taliban's Qatar office, which was portrayed by the rebel group as the headquarters of a state-in-exile.
US envoy James Dobbins said Monday that Washington was also “outraged” that the Taliban opened the office under the group's white flag and referred to themselves as the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan," the name of their hardline 1996-2001 regime.
The office had been intended as a first step towards a peace deal to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
The contentious sign, flag and flagpole unveiled at the opening of the office last Tuesday have now been moved.
The video conference call between Obama and Karzai came just hours after Taliban militants in Kabul carries out a brazen assault in the capital, targeting the presidential palace and the CIA building.
A week after NATO forces handed all security operations to the Afghans, local forces fought off the attackers on their own, killing all eight militants without calling in any coalition help. But the assault, during which three security guards were also killed, made clear that the Taliban’s commitment to violence remains unbroken and demonstrated their ability to bluff their way past two checkpoints and storm a highly fortified zone of the capital.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement, saying that “eight of our suicide bombers were able to reach the most secure area of Kabul,” identifying them by name and saying they were carrying hand grenades, a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenades.
“The brave Mujahideen, with special tactics and help from inside, were able to reach their target with their weapons and cars,” they said.
The Taliban have said they would continue fighting even as they pursued peace talks, and the attack served to drive that home, Moeen Marastial, a political analyst and former member of the Afghan parliament, told AP.
“The main point is the Taliban wants to show to the government of Afghanistan and to the world and to the powers who are working for the peace process that they are in power,” Marastial said. “They can come close to the palace, they can come close to the places where NATO is, where American forces are – they wanted to show to the world that ‘we can do it.”
US Ambassador James Cunningham urged an end to the violence and again pushed for the Taliban to open peace negotiations.
“All of the attackers were killed, without success in achieving their goals. This again demonstrates the futility of the Taliban’s efforts to use violence and terror to achieve their aims,” he said in a statement. “We again call on the Taliban to come to the table to talk to the Afghanistan government about peace and reconciliation.”
Karzai reacted sharply to the attack, saying that the Taliban cannot on one hand open an office for peace in Qatar and on the other hand kill people in Afghanistan.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)