ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A top American diplomat says that even though the Taliban is unwilling to resume peace talks, the United States will continue to urge the militant group to reopen its Doha office in Qatar and join the Afghan reconciliation process. The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, told journalists in the Afghan capital Friday he is confident Washington and Kabul will in the next few weeks resolve differences over provisions of a bilateral security pact.
U.S. special envoy James Dobbins said Washington was prepared to move the Doha process forward, but much depended on whether the Taliban was ready to sit down and begin discussions with the United States and Afghan peace negotiators.
“They had not been willing to do so for the last few weeks but we have not given up. We will continue to pursue that,” he said.
As part of U.S. plans to end the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents were allowed this past June to open an office in the Qatari capital of Doha, where they could deploy representatives to negotiate peace.
But when the Taliban opened the facility, the group called it an office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name the Taliban used for the country during the five years it ruled, from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban office in Doha also raised the official Taliban flag.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reacted angrily to this, accusing the United States of encouraging the insurgents to set up a parallel government-in-exile. He also denounced plans for a direct meeting between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives at the Doha office and suspended talks with Washington over a proposed security pact.
The strong reaction prompted American officials to ask Qatar to remove the Taliban flag and the nameplate, a move that upset the militants, who then closed the office nearly two weeks after it was opened to much fanfare.
U.S. envoy Dobbins reiterated Friday that the way the Taliban had opened the Doha office violated prior agreements.
“Unfortunately, when the office opened those conditions were not fully respected. We think that was the result largely of misunderstandings rather than bad faith. We are not arguing that this was a condition of bad faith, but clearly there were some misunderstandings about the limits on that office and how it should describe itself. And so, we are ready to move forward,” he said.
Ambassador Dobbins also emphasized that discussions between the Taliban and members of a High Peace Council appointed by the Afghan president would be key to moving the peace process forward.
The Taliban has long refused to hold direct talks with representatives of President Karzai, accusing him of being an “American puppet.”
During his press conference Friday in Kabul, Dobbins sounded upbeat that the United States and Afghanistan would finalize a bilateral security pact by October, when the Afghan presidential campaign was due to begin.
“So we think that the bilateral security agreement, which we believe has broad support in Afghanistan and it is in Afghan interest as well as our own, it is the sort of thing that would be usefully concluded before the presidential campaign starts so that it does not become a divisive issue in that campaign,” he said.
The presidential election in Afghanistan will be held next April and recent local media reports suggested President Karzai wants to let the country's future leadership decide the fate of the proposed security agreement. Afghans are also concerned this could become a major issue in the election campaign.
U.S. officials maintain the security agreement is needed to define the nature and role of the residual American force they want to leave in Afghanistan after most foreign troops withdraw by end of next year.