KABUL: Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai Monday said that peace talks with the Taliban would also require the involvement of Pakistan in the process.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a show of rare, recent unity between their two nations, as the US military ceded control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan, ending a longstanding irritant in relations.
Kerry arrived in the Afghan capital of Kabul on an unannounced visit amid concerns that Karzai may be jeopardizing progress in the war against extremism with anti-American rhetoric. After a private meeting, Kerry said he and Karzai were “on the same page” on security and reconciliation issues and brushed aside suggestions that relations were in peril.
Karzai had infuriated US officials by accusing Washington of colluding with Taliban insurgents to keep Afghanistan weak even as the Obama administration pressed ahead with plans to hand off security responsibility to Afghan forces and end NATO’s combat mission by the end of next year.
At a joint news conference after their talks, Karzai told reporters his comments had been misinterpreted by the media. Kerry said officials sometimes make comments in public that reflect an idea that they have heard expressed by others.
“I am confident the president (Karzai) does not believe the US has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace and that we are completely cooperative with the government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their efforts and their people,” Kerry said. He noted that he had specifically raised the collusion comment with Karzai and was satisfied with what he had heard in response.
“We’re on the same page,” Kerry said. “I don’t think there is any disagreement between us and I am very, very comfortable with the president’s explanation.”
For his part, Karzai said “today was a very good day,” citing the turnover of the detention facility at the US-run Bagram military base north of Kabul. He also expressed gratitude for the sacrifices made for his country by Americans. However, he defended allegations he has made about American troops abusing Afghan civilians, saying they were not meant to “offend” anyone but rather to protect his people.
“When I say something publicly, it is not meant to offend our allies but to correct the situation,” he said. “I am responsible for the protection of the Afghan people. I am the president of this country. It is my job to provide all the protection I can to the people of this country.”
The news conference came near the beginning of Kerry’s 24-hour visit to the country _ his sixth since President Barack Obama took office but his first as Obama’s secretary of state,
The pair also called on the Taliban to take advantage of the offer to open a political office in Doha, Qatar, from where they could engage in reconciliation talks with the Afghan Peace Council and potentially negotiate an end to hostilities.
Kerry said the Taliban should not ignore the opportunity because the United States is committed to Afghanistan’s security beyond 2014 and will not allow gains made over the past decade to be lost. He noted that Obama has not yet decided how many US troops should stay after next year and that the Taliban should not count on a complete American withdrawal.