Published June 24, 2013
The U.S. representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan said Monday that the Obama administration was "outraged" over the way the Taliban opened its new office in Qatar last week.
The opening of the Doha office was meant as a big first step toward peace talks, and a possible peace deal, in the Afghanistan war. But the Taliban last week angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai by using their flag and calling the office the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan." Karzai objected to the wording of its name, saying it was tantamount to the establishment of a rival government office, not a political office.
U.S. envoy James Dobbins echoed his concerns on Monday.
"We protested and we asked them to take corrective measures and they took them," he said, according to AFP. "We were outraged ourselves because it was inconsistent with the assurances we had been given and the assurances we had given."
The Taliban have since removed the offending sign and lowered the flag, though Taliban leaders are also objecting over the stand-off.
"There is an internal discussion right now and much anger about it but we have not yet decided what action to take," Shaheen Suhail, the Taliban's spokesman in Qatar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "But I think it weakens the process from the very beginning."
A Qatar Foreign Ministry statement said the Taliban had violated an agreement to call the office the "Political Bureau of the Taliban Afghan in Doha."
The Obama administration also said the U.S. and Qatar never had agreed to allow the Taliban to use that name on the door.
But Suhail said the incident has frustrated and angered some within the militant movement who said the Taliban have been meeting with representatives of dozens of countries and holding secret one-on-one meetings with members of Karzai's High Peace Council on several occasions, always under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
"Now the process is being weakened at the beginning and not being given a chance," he said. "This is very bad for the Afghan people, for the international community."
In Kabul, a member of the government's negotiation team said it was still prepared to begin talks in Qatar and said the removal of the sign and flag was a positive sign.
High Peace Council member Shahzada Shahid told The Associated Press Saturday that it was too early to say when the council would travel to Qatar for talks. He also welcomed the participation of countries in the international coalition in Afghanistan and said they would have their own issues to discuss.
"Peace is very important and vital for us so we will take all measures for it," he said.
Meanwhile Dobbins arrived in Doha on Saturday where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was attending meetings on Syria. His presence suggested that the U.S. remains interested in talking with the Taliban despite the recent flap.
Suhail said the Taliban had not been notified of talks with Dobbins on Saturday but he advocated for cooler heads to prevail.
"Everyone should save the process. Give a chance to the process. In one day everything cannot be resolved," he said. "This is a very secondary thing and not important. I am also surprised that it should derail the process."
While the "internal talks" continued over the sign, the Taliban were still cobbling together a negotiating team, the spokesman said.
The Taliban have already agreed to hand over U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured by the Taliban in 2009, in exchange for five Taliban held in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Suhail also said that a cease-fire and women's rights could be part of negotiations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.