Afghanistan Peace Council makes it clear Karzai gov't not ready to talk with Taliban yet

Guests arrive for the opening ceremony of the new Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar, June 18, 2013. Getty

LONDON A senior envoy from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council told CBS News on Thursday that the Taliban delegation in Doha is still not sending the signals which would allow peace talks between the government and the militant group to begin.

Ismail Qasimyaar, the Council's chief international advisor, said the Taliban would first have to stop behaving as if it were an alternative Afghan government.

Qasimyaar's comments echoed frustration voiced by Karzai's administration after a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday to inaugurate the Taliban's brand new office in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban flew a flag representing, they said, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." A plaque outside the office bore the same logo.

As a result, Karzai's government refused to enter into-long anticipated peace talks with the militant group. And as a slap on the wrist to the Obama administration for its unilateral negotiations with the Taliban and for the perceived U.S. backing for the Taliban's new office and the way it was opened, the Afghan government also suspended ongoing negotiations in Kabul to hammer out a security agreement which will frame the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

"In taking the name 'The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,' the Taliban is pretending it is a sovereign power," Qasimyaar told CBS News on Thursday from Kabul. "They are trying to give the impression that the Doha office is an embassy or quasi-diplomatic mission."

The flag and the plaque outside the Taliban's office were removed late Wednesday, but Qasimyaar said that wouldn't be enough.

"The Taliban is simply an armed group, and its leaders have to undertake to deal only with the elected government of Afghanistan, without unilaterally approaching the U.N. or third countries," he said.

With no such guarantee forthcoming from the Taliban, it wasn't clear when peace talks between Karzai's government and the Taliban might begin, but they did not look imminent.

Assuming talks do eventually get underway, Qasimyaar said the first order of business would be a ceasefire. Significantly, however, he said the negotiations could begin even before the violence stopped on the ground.

"We won't make it a precondition for talks, but it will be the first item on the agenda," he said. "While the Taliban takes advantage of the office in Doha, and financial assistance and political protection of Qatar -- as well as recognition by the U.S. -- they cannot keep on killing and carrying out suicide attacks."

The U.S. government was still expected to hold separate, bilateral talks with Taliban representatives in Doha in the coming days, but no firm date for those talks has been set.

Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to be in Doha on Saturday for bilateral meetings with Qatari officials, and CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reported that the Afghan reconciliation process would be on the agenda. The Qatari government has previously acted as an emissary between the Taliban and the U.S. government.

If the peace talks are scheduled, the first U.S. official to publicly meet with the Taliban will be Ambassador James Dobbins, reported Brennan. He is the U.S. government's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan and plans to fly to Doha to negotiate face-to-face with the Taliban representatives. U.S. officials have not had direct contact with the Taliban since 2011.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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