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Afghan peace bid stumbles on protocol row

world Updated: Jun 21, 2013 00:26 IST

Reuters
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A fresh effort to end Afghanistan's 12-year-old war looked in trouble today after a diplomatic spat about the Taliban's new Qatar office delayed preliminary discussions between the United States and the Islamist insurgents.

A meeting between US officials and representatives of the Taliban had been set for Thursday in Qatar but Afghan government anger at the fanfare surrounding the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state threw preparations into confusion.

The squabble may set the tone for what could be arduous negotiations to end a conflict that has torn at Afghanistan's stability since the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on US targets.

Asked when the talks would now take place, the source in Doha said "There is nothing scheduled that I am aware of", and confirmed that meant they would not happen today.

The opening of the office was a practical step paving the way for peace talks. But the official-looking protocol surrounding the event raised angry protests in Kabul that the office would develop into a Taliban government-in-exile: A diplomatic scramble ensued to allay their concerns.US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Karzai on Tuesday night and again yesterday morning in an effort to defuse the controversy, US and Afghan officials said.

A Taliban flag that had been hoisted at the Taliban office on Tuesday had been taken down and lay on the ground today, although it appeared still attached to a flagpole.