South Asia News
Karzai asks NATO to leave by 2013; Taliban suspend talks
Mar 15, 2012, 13:07 GMT
Kabul/Berlin - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday asked visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to anticipate handing over all security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces by 2013.
'Both sides have to work together to complete the transition process of security from international troops to Afghan forces in 2013, instead of 2014,' Karzai was quoted as saying in the statement.
'We are ready to take over all security responsibilities for the country,' Karzai said.
During the meeting, Karzai also asked that all foreign soldiers be pulled out of Afghan villages. The request comes days after a US soldier allegedly went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghan civilians, many of them women and children.
Only on Wednesday, NATO's ambassador to Kabul, Simon Gass, had rejected calls for an early withdrawal of troops. 'I don't think speeding up transition would be of help,' he said.
On Thursday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu reacted to Karzai's remarks, stressing the military alliance's commitment to handing over security responsibilities to Afghans 'as soon as practically possible.'
She added that the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21 would 'map out how we intend to complete the transition process successfully and responsibly.'
Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban movement said it had suspended all talks in Qatar with the United States, due to what was described as the 'shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans.'
'A memorandum of understanding, which was agreed upon earlier, was not yet fulfilled when an American representative presented a list of conditions in his latest meeting with the Islamic Emirate. These conditions were not only unacceptable, but also in contradiction with the earlier, agreed-upon points,' the Taliban said in a statement.
The Taliban refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate, the name of their regime when they ruled Afghanistan before being ousted from Kabul in the 2001 US-led invasion.
The insurgents announced in January that they were opening an office in the Gulf state of Qatar in order to start a dialogue with the international community.
In their latest statement, the Taliban said the political office in Qatar was for the sake of reaching an understanding with the outside world and particularly for the exchange of prisoners with the Americans.
They also said they will not restart talks with the US 'until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show a willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time.'
Western governments that have been sending soldiers to Afghanistan for more than a decade have said they plan to pull out of the south Asian country by the end of 2014.
However, a growing number of politicians in Europe and the US have been questioning the NATO-led mission. At the same time, there are ongoing concerns that Afghan national security forces are not yet ready to take up the challenge of fighting the Taliban on their own.
Despite deep opposition in Germany to the nation's military presence in Afghanistan, the Defence Ministry in Berlin gave a lukewarm reaction to Karzai's call for an early withdrawal of international troops from his country.
A German Defence Ministry spokesman pointed to the planned 2014 withdrawal of NATO alliance troops, saying: 'We have an agreement in the alliance, and it stands.'
However, officials in the Defence Ministry also believe that, for the withdrawal to be completed by 2014, it would need underway at least a year beforehand.
Karzai's comments to Panetta came as hundreds of Afghans gathered in a southern city to protest the weekend killings.
'The protestors are shouting anti-American slogans,' said Hekmatullah Kochi, spokesman for the 404 Police Corps, a regional Afghan police headquarters. 'They say they want the Americans to leave the country.'
The protest took place in Qalat, the capital of Zabul province. It borders the volatile province of Kandahar, where the US soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghans, mostly women and children, while they were asleep in their homes.
The protest was peaceful, Kochi said.
Afghans have expressed anger over the killings, which came just days after foreign soldiers caused an uproar by burning sacred Islamic texts. Many have demanded a public trial in an Afghan court.
The suspect has been in US military custody since surrendering on his return to his base after the rampage and was flown to Kuwait on Wednesday.
Afghan lawmakers have also said their patience with foreign troops has run out.
Panetta was on a two-day visit to Afghanistan to try to contain the fallout from the recent incidents.
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