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Terrorism & Security

Symbolism of Taliban flag and banner upends Afghan peace talks

Planned negotiations between the US, Afghanistan, and the Taliban look doubtful after the Afghan president announces a boycott amid a row over the Taliban office in Doha.

By Staff writer / June 20, 2013

A general view of the Taliban office in Doha before the official opening in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

Osama Faisal/AP

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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The first talks between the US and Taliban set to take place in Qatar today are expected to be postponed, following diplomatic tensions related to the opening and naming of a Taliban office in Doha.

"It is a kind of Taliban establishment which we don't want," a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, Muhammad Ismael Qasemyar, told the BBC, referring to the newly opened Taliban office.

The opening on Tuesday was meant to be a step in the Afghan peace process after a year and a half of stalled efforts. However, the Taliban used the opportunity as a publicity stunt. The Taliban hung its flag along with a banner outside the office naming it “the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan,” the name the group used during its rule over Afghanistan from 1996-2001. The group also said they planned to host meetings with members of the international community like the United Nations.

Essentially, what was meant to be an office dedicated to facilitating the peace process after a 12-year war in Afghanistan appeared to be something more akin to an embassy, according to The New York Times.  

“Through those pictures of the Taliban flag waving in the air and the banner on the office, it took people to see two countries, two flags, two legitimacies. The damage is already done,” a former Afghan official in Doha told the Times.

Many Afghans who saw footage of the Taliban office opening felt removed from a process that inherently involves them: bringing peace to Afghanistan, reports the Times. Editorial cartoons from the months leading up to the talks highlight a sense of skepticism, including one of a skewered dove and another showing US surprise at who they were entering into negotiations with.

As a result of the office-opening debacle, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced his delegation would not attend the talks until the Taliban’s symbolic representation as an independent government was removed. Mr. Karzai also suspended bilateral talks with the US over extending its military presence in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal date.

According to Reuters, the “squabble” could set the tone for “long and arduous negotiations to end a war that has raged since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that followed the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. targets.”

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