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Afghans take over security from NATO
Explosion in Kabul a reminder of dangers facing Afghan forces

Kabul, June 18
Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday, as the US-led NATO coalition launched the final phase of the 12-year war with the last round of security transfers to Afghan forces.

Karzai's announcement was the first possible step forward in the peace process, which has struggled to achieve results despite many attempts, and is likely to be applauded by his Western backers. "Afghanistan's High Peace Council will travel to Qatar to discuss peace talks with the Taliban," Karzai said in Kabul, referring to the council he formed in late 2010.

"We hope that our brothers the Taliban also understand that the process will move to our country soon," Karzai said of the fundamentalist Islamic group that ruled the country with an iron fist from 1996 to 2001. There was no immediate comment from the Afghan Taliban.

Karzai was speaking following a ceremony in which the international coalition marked the beginning of the end of the handover of security to Afghan forces. About 2,000 persons, including NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dozens of Western ambassadors and senior Afghan and international officials attended.

An explosion in Kabul early on Tuesday that targeted a senior member of the peace council illustrated concerns over how effectively the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will be able to fight the growing insurgency after most foreign combat troops depart by the end of next year. Mohammad Mohaqiq, a prominent Hazara politician, escaped unscathed from the attack but three persons were killed and 21 wounded, a government official said.

Dubbed "milestone 2013" by NATO, the handover will culminate in the departure of all NATO troops serving in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force at the end of 2014. Afghan security forces have been rapidly built up by the international coalition, from about 40,000 in 2009 to 352,000 in February this year.

The transfer of security responsibility began in July 2011 with a handover by ISAF of the country's most peaceful province, Bamiyan. There have been three further rounds since, taking to 87 per cent by last December the proportion of the Afghan population protected by the Afghan state. Tuesday's tranche comprises restive eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan. These include Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Logar and Nuristan.

Fatalities among the Afghan security forces show how soon they have been expected to take the burden of the Afghan war. In one year, the Afghan state has lost more troops than NATO has across the entire war. In reference to the peace talks, Karzai said three principles had been created - that having begun in Qatar, the talks must then immediately be moved to Afghanistan, that they bring about an end to violence and that they must not become a tool for a "third country" to exploit Afghanistan.

Karzai called on the Taliban last month to fight Afghanistan's enemies in what was widely seen as a swipe against Pakistan days after the neighbours' security forces clashed on their joint border. Pakistan, which helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself, said it would continue to support reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan, though did not mention the Qatar talks in a statement on Tuesday. Reuters

Dawn of a new era

  • Dubbed "milestone 2013" by NATO, the handover will culminate in the departure of all NATO troops serving in Afghanistan under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force at the end of 2014
  • Afghan security forces have been rapidly built up by the international coalition, from about 40,000 in 2009 to 352,000 in February this year
  • The transfer of security responsibility began in July 2011 with a handover by the ISAF of the country's most peaceful province, Bamiyan
  • There have been three further rounds since, taking to 87% by last December the proportion of the Afghan population protected by the Afghan forces
  • Tuesday's tranche comprises restive eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Pakistan. These include Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, Logar and Nuristan

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Taliban opens office in Doha to hold talks

Washington, June 18
In a significant development, the Taliban today opened its political office in Doha to hold peace talks with the Afghan government and separate parleys with the US that could boost reconciliation process in the Afghanistan after 12 years of war.

The 'Political Bureau of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' has been opened in the Qatari capital of Doha to initiate dialogue between the Taliban and the world, the Taliban said.

In a statement, it said the office would help to build relations with the world, allow them to meet other Afghans and to contact the United Nations, other agencies and the media.

"We support a political and peaceful solution that ends Afghanistan's occupation, and guarantees the Islamic system and nationwide security," it said, making no direct reference to peace talks.

The Obama Administration was cautious to Taliban's announcement in view of "low level of trust" among Afghans themselves but termed the development as a "significant first step" in the overall goal of achieving peace in the war-torn country.

The US would have first talks with the Taliban within the next couple of days, and this to be followed by the one between the Taliban and the High Peace Council, officials said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government envoys are to travel to Qatar to try to open peace talks with the Taliban on a possible deal ending the conflict. PTI

US-Taliban peace talks tomorrow

Afghanistan peace talks between representatives of the United States and the Taliban will take place on Thursday in Doha, a senior US official said on Tuesday. Reuters



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