The Afghan government is part of a three-way peace dialogue involving the U.S. and the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai reportedly said, despite the militia’s denunciation of his “puppet regime.”
Kabul has expressed fear of being marginalized as United States officials explore a dialogue with the Islamist Taliban, who in turn have said they have no intention to talk to the president’s U.S.-backed government.
But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Karzai said the Afghan government was indeed involved in the dialogue and that most Taliban were “definitively” interested in a peace deal as foreign troops exit.
“There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban,” Karzai was quoted as saying in the interview, conducted Wednesday.
The president, who is due to hold summit talks in Islamabad with leaders of Pakistan and Iran on Thursday, did not give any further details about the contacts.
Karzai did not mention any Pakistani involvement in the Taliban dialogue, but said the cooperation of Afghanistan’s fractious neighbor “would make the whole matter easier for us, for the Taliban, and for the U.S.”
The Taliban said last month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of possible formal talks with the United States. Afghan and U.S. officials have said that exploratory contacts are already underway.
To build confidence, President Barack Obama’s administration has confirmed tentative talks with the Taliban on a possible transfer of five inmates from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, and on potential local ceasefires with the militia.
The nascent dialogue comes as the United States and its foreign allies prepare to draw down their combat troop presence and hand full control of Afghanistan’s security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
The Taliban have often decried Karzai’s government as a “puppet regime” propped up by foreign troops and cash, but the president dismissed such talk as rhetoric.
In the interview, he said the Taliban might even accept a peace deal that allows for the long-term presence of U.S. troops.
“There are a lot of people in the Taliban who are the sons of the soil, and who do not want this country, the people of this country, to suffer,” he said.
Karzai also signaled flexibility about long-running negotiations with the United States over a strategic partnership to govern Afghan-U.S. relations after foreign combat troops leave.
Afghanistan could give ground on the question of legal immunity for U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, he said, a stumbling block that prevented a similar strategic pact between the United States and Iraq last year.
“That’s an issue that we can discuss,” the president told the Wall Street Journal. “We want a partnership with America. And we will do all we can to make that possible.”