In the hours following an announcement by the Taliban and the United States saying they were ready to begin peace talks, we received reminders of just how tenuous that situation is: On Tuesday night the Taliban said they fired two rockets near Bagram airbase in Kabul. The International Security Assistance Force said four service members were killed by "an indirect fire attack."
Not only that, but this morning Afghan President Hamid Karzai walked away from bilateral talks with the U.S. to "protest the way his government was being left out of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban meant to find ways to end the nearly 12-year war," The Associated Press reports.
The AP adds:
"In a terse statement from his office, Karzai said negotiations with the U.S. on what American and coalition security forces will remain in the country after 2014 have been put on hold.
"The statement followed an announcement Tuesday by the U.S. and the Taliban that they would pursue bilateral talks in Qatar before the Afghan government was brought in.
"'In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and U.S. delegations on the bilateral security agreement,' Karzai's statement said."
As The New York Times explains it, the attack was "at best a rocky prelude to peace talks with Taliban." The newspaper frames the story as a struggle for legitimacy between Karzai's government and the Taliban.
Karzai is angry that the Taliban are flying a flag at its newly opened office in Doha, Qatar, and calling the office the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." The Afghan government wanted that office to be just an address where talks are held, but as the Times explains, the Taliban are making it sound like an embassy.
The Times reports that the Taliban:
"... made clear that they sought to be dealt with as a legitimate political force with a long-term role to play beyond the insurgency. In that sense, in addition to aiding in talks, the actual opening of their office in Qatar — nearly a year and a half after initial plans to open it were announced and then soon after suspended — could be seen as a signal that the Taliban's ultimate aim is recognition as an alternative to the Western-backed government of President Karzai."
Update at 8:49 p.m. ET. Walks Away From Peace Talks:
Beyond talks about a U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan has now announced it will stay out of the peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban.
" 'As long as the peace process is not Afghan-led, the High Peace Council will not participate in the talks in Qatar,' Karzai said in a statement, referring to a body he set up in 2010 to seek a negotiated peace with the Taliban.
"Karzai also said the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar showed the United States had failed to honour promises made to the Afghan state about the role of that office."
Update at 7:43 a.m. ET. Anticipated 'Areas Of Friction':
Speaking at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama said the U.S. had anticipated "some areas of friction."
He said today's developments were "not surprising" because "there's enormous mistrust" between the parties.
Still, Obama said, he hoped that "despite those challenges" the talks would continue.