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Taliban: Qatar office 'does not represent us'

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

KABUL — Two weeks after peace talks with the Taliban dramatically imploded, the insurgent group's office in Qatar remains an apt symbol for Afghanistan's diplomatic stalemate. Behind high walls in residential Doha, it hasn't been opened for negotiations, and it hasn't been forced to close.

For now, it is a would-be negotiations center — years in the making — that conducts no negotiations. Americans and Afghans are unsure whether it ever will. But closing it could preclude a political solution to this country's 11-year war.

With such high stakes, neither U.S. nor Afghan officials are willing to pull the plug on the Doha talks, even though recent Taliban statements and actions offer little reason to be optimistic.

The Taliban shocked representatives of both nations when it displayed the organization's flag during its first news conference in the Qatar office and spoke in front of a banner with the words, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the name of its regime when it ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

U.S. officials said the parties had agreed that the office would be called a “political bureau of the Afghan Taliban.” The Afghan government considered the banner and flag an affront to its legitimacy.

President Hamid Karzai responded by not only refusing to participate in any talks with the Taliban, but also by halting negotiations over a long-term security agreement with the United States. Those talks remain on hold, but he appears to have marginally cooled off, claiming to have made contact with Taliban leaders in Pakistan who offered a more positive stance toward talks than the representatives in Doha.

“A number of Taliban leaders contacted the president and showed their dissatisfaction about the Qatar office,” said Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi. “They said foreign hands are behind the office and that they do not represent us.”

At a news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron last week, Karzai said: “A window of opportunity is open, and I will urge all of those who renounce violence, who respect the constitution, who want to have a voice in the future prosperity of this country to seize that opportunity.”

Karzai said in a statement on Thursday that he won't resume long-term security negotiations with the United States until his government's negotiators meet with the Taliban — a prospect that has raised some concerns about the American ability to maintain an enduring presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

“The idea of making a condition on the bilateral agreement when the Taliban decide to meet with the High Peace Council puts way too much power in (the Taliban's) hands,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after meeting with Karzai.

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