Afghan president visits Qatar to discuss peace

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World,Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's president landed in Qatar Sunday to discuss his country's stalled peace process and the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, officials said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said President Hamid Karzai will not hold any talks with Taliban representatives now in Qatar.

He will meet with Qatari officials on the sidelines of an annual conference on relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

"As we have already said, any official negotiations regarding peace with the Taliban can take place only between the high-ranking Taliban representatives and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan," Mosazai told reporters.

The indirect contacts come as NATO forces draw down in preparation for handing the lead for security to Afghan forces in the coming weeks ahead of a full pullout by the end of next year. That development has made both military and political developments crucial.

Karzai's office said Sunday evening that he had arrived in Doha along with senior ministers and advisers.

"During this visit, the President will meet with Qatari officials to discuss Afghanistan's peace process and bilateral relations between the two countries," his office said in a statement.

Both Afghanistan and the United States support the opening of a Taliban political office in Qatar as part of an effort to rekindle talks with the insurgent group, which has been waging war against the government and U.S.-led military coalition for nearly 12 years. But first the Taliban must renounce all ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and accept Afghanistan's constitution.

Afghanistan insists all talks must be carried out by the peace council, a group formed by President Hamid Karzai to try and find ways to initiate negotiations with the insurgents.

The council has so far failed to start any form of negotiations with the Taliban since U.S.-initiated peace talks collapsed last year. It is made up of influential Afghans, former Taliban and tribal elders from all Afghan ethnic groups.

Taliban representatives have met officials from more than two dozen countries, participated in international forums in Tokyo and France, and recently visited Iran -- a traditional enemy. But they have steadfastly refused to talk to the peace council or Karzai's representatives, saying they represent a "puppet government."

Mosazai reiterated the Afghan government's support for the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar, but "only under the conditions and principles which would be acceptable for the Afghan people."

He would not comment on the recent trip to Iran by Taliban representatives.

"Unfortunately the Taliban have very good relations with foreign countries, but they have enmity with the Afghan people, they are killing Afghan people while they are carrying out terrorist attacks," Mosazai said.

In southern Kandahar, an insurgent roadside bomb killed two police officers and a child in the Arghasan district, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq.

Violence in parts of Kandahar has increased in recent weeks as Afghan forces battle the Taliban in their southern heartland.

Provincial spokesman Javed Faisal said eight Taliban were killed, two were wounded and eight others were arrested on Saturday during an operation in the Zhari and Maiwand districts.

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