Karzai: Afghan Government Should Lead Peace Talks

Hamid Karzai

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's president warned on Tuesday that all efforts at peace talks with the Taliban should go through the government, and appealed on the country's powerbrokers not to engage in such negotiations if the authorities are sidelines.

Hamid Karzai insisted the government - and not foreign powers - must lead the talks if the country is to have any hope of emerging from a decade of fighting as a strong and unified nation.

He said some Afghan powerbrokers and prominent political figures had been approached by foreign powers to hold talks through side channels, rather than working through the High Peace Council set up by the Afghan government.

"All our politicians must know that the peace process will only have a good result if we are unified and the process goes forward and the process will go forward through the High Peace Council," Karzai said.

The president said participating in talks with the Taliban without the government would weaken the country and urged all to refuse those offers.

Bombings and fighting have continued to rock the country as officials make the slow steps toward peace negotiations.

In the latest violence, gunmen on Tuesday shot and killed Mushtaq Sadat, the head of a district government in the eastern Kapisa province. Qais Qaderi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said Sadat was shot in front of his house as he walked out to pray at the neighborhood mosque.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the assassination in a text message to The Associated Press.

The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago and has been hobbled by distrust between the Afghan government and the United States. Karzai has repeatedly decried foreign, and specifically American, efforts to jumpstart the talks while keeping the Afghan government in the dark.

On Tuesday, Karzai upbraided his Western allies for trying to undermine what he said had to be an Afghan process.

Though he referred mostly to the interference of "foreigners" in general, Karzai at one point directly targeted the United States, which is in the process of negotiating terms for its long-term presence in the country.

"We told American government during our recent visit that no foreigners should try to hold the Afghan peace process in their hands," Karzai said.

Since U.S.-backed talks broke down last March in a dispute over the release of five Taliban detainees held in American custody at a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the High Peace Council has tried to take a greater role.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have established a presence in Qatar and the council says they are hoping to be involved in talks with those in the Doha office.

"I want to call on the Taliban and our politicians not to let the foreigners cheat them. Peace is only possible from one source: the High Peace Council, which includes all Afghans, all parties," Karzai said.

Karzai spoke Tuesday at a conference about water management, where he first talked about the need for clean water systems and then broke off to address what he described as a "very important issue" - the varied attempts at peace talks with the Taliban.

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Afghanistan Hamid Karzai