Karzai makes step forward towards peace

KABUL – Afghanistan will send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai said today, 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 people including NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dozens of Western ambassadors and senior Afghan and international officials attended.

An explosion in Kabul early today 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 people were killed and 21 wounded, a government official said.

Just a week separated the killings from two large-scale attacks in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, with militants attacking the airport on June 10 and a suicide bomber killing at least 17 people outside the Supreme Court the next day. (Reuters)

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