Kabul (Afghanistan): Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that previously unscheduled peace talks between the Taliban and the United States in Pakistan risk engulfing the country in regional rivalries.
In an interview with The Associated Press in the capital Kabul, Karzai worried that the accelerated peace process was being hijacked by competing territorial interests in Afghanistan, even as the country’s neighbours and other states jockey for influence after US troops are gone.
The talks are aimed at finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s destructive 17-year war — America’s longest.
Previously scheduled talks are slated for February 25 in Qatar.
“We don’t want the peace process to become hostage to competing powers for influence in Afghanistan or over the process,” said Karzai. “No. We have suffered because of that and we don’t want that.”
Karzai led a delegation of prominent Afghans from Kabul, including former politicians and tribal elders, to a significant first round of talks with the Taliban last week in Moscow. The meeting was sharply criticised by Afghan President Ashraf Gani.
Karzai said the Taliban are ready to talk to the government, but as part of a larger collection of Afghan representatives, adding that it “eventually will lead to direct talks with the Afghan government as the executive arm of the country.”
The former president urged Gani to show flexibility.
“Keeping this great great desire... to bring an end to the bloodshed of the Afghan people ... I think it is time for the government to reconsider their position and to try to find solutions,” Karzai said. “For the sake of peace we must be flexible, we must find ways out and that’s my advice to the government.”
Karzai also warned Washington and its peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad against leveraging Afghanistan and the peace process against its own rivals China and Russia and handing off influence over Afghanistan to neighbour Pakistan.
Karzai said he is concerned that Monday’s meeting in Pakistan could be the first step down a slippery slope to the past when Pakistan wielded influence over his country.
“We don’t want Afghanistan to be back under the influence of Pakistan under the name of the peace process and clearly I have told the Americans that we see a difference between peace for Afghanistan and the United States making a deal with Pakistan on Afghanistan,” he said.
“The danger is the repetition of the past misery for Afghanistan, support to extremism, support to radicalism, support to terrorism.”
Yet in an effort to find an end to the country’s lengthy war, the United States last year acquiesced to the Taliban’s long-standing demand for direct talks. As Washington’s envoy, Khalilzad focused talks on US troop withdrawal and guarantees that Afghan territory would not again be used to threaten America.
Karzai, however, warned against US anti-terrorism activity to verify and enforce Taliban promises or track down suspected terrorists following a withdrawal of US troops.
Previously, Khalilzad said the US would not take the Taliban at their word alone but would verify that Afghanistan was not harbouring terrorists that could attack the US. He did not offer specifics.
Karzai, however, said US special forces who are not directly controlled and approved by a larger Afghan council of elders would not be welcome in a post US Afghanistan.
“We don’t want any anti-terrorism US activity in Afghanistan that leads to them going to Afghan homes and bombing Afghan villages,” said Karzai, whose final years in power were characterised by bitter criticism of US military operations in Afghanistan. He refused to sign a bilateral security agreement, which Gani, his successor signed.
“If an anti-terrorism force means the continuation of the current US military policy in Afghanistan, no,” Karzai said.