- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Afghanistan’s peace process is crumbling amid distrust among all the key players - the U.S., Pakistan, the Afghan president and the Taliban, who continue to attack American and NATO troops.

The Obama administration had bolstered its attempts to end the war with the Taliban ahead of a planned withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2014, but those efforts now appear to have become bogged down in suspicion.

Failure to reconcile the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, with the Western-backed government in Kabul could abandon the country to civil strife - like that in post-U.S.-occupied Iraq - after international forces leave the country.

“The way reconciliation is going on right now is extremely ad hoc. It is being conducted in an environment of mistrust,” said Said Jawad, who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2003 to 2010.

“There is no mutual trust and agreed-upon base lines among Afghans and the international community, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S., and Pakistan and those elements of the Taliban that are reaching out to us or the Americans,” Mr. Jawad said.

Omar Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, said the peace process is “in a state of confusion and disarray.”

“Diplomatic endeavors lack coordination, and the parties are on different pages with little real movement,” Mr. Samad said.

Heightened tensions

The Taliban announced in January that it would set up an office in Qatar to facilitate peace talks.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been reluctant to embrace the proposal, which is supported by the U.S. He would rather have Saudi Arabia or Turkey host the talks.

Mr. Karzai favors Saudi Arabia because it commands respect as the custodian of the Muslim holy shrines and has influence over Pakistan, which U.S. and Afghan officials accuse of sheltering the Taliban.

Qatar is not final yet as far as we are concerned,” said an Afghan official, who, like other Afghan and Western officials interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.

“We need to first agree on where the talks take place. Saudi Arabia or Turkey [is] more appropriate for negotiations with the Taliban,” the official said.

Tensions have escalated between the U.S. and Afghan governments since the Feb. 25 slayings of two U.S. military advisers inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul. The two were among six U.S. troops killed by Afghan security forces in the backlash that followed the accidental burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in eastern Afghanistan.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, raising questions about its commitment to the peace process.

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