US cannot talk on behalf of Afghan govt: Karzai

Islamabad: President Hamid Karzai today said that the US cannot hold talks with Taliban on behalf of the Afghan government, which alone will decide the venue for any negotiations with the militant group.

Karzai made it clear that the US is not talking to the Taliban on behalf of the Afghan government. During a breakfast interaction with Pakistani television anchors and columnists, Karzai said that the Afghan government would choose the venue for any parleys with the Taliban.

"We will hold talks with the Taliban either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey," Karzai was quoted as saying by Pakistani news channels.

Karzai`s remarks came against the backdrop of reports that Afghan Taliban had opened a political office in Qatar and held exploratory talks with US officials in the Gulf state.

A Taliban spokesman said last week that the office in Qatar was opened at their suggestion. But the Afghan President told the anchors and columnists that that the US cannot hold talks with the Taliban on behalf of his government.

Karzai is currently in Islamabad for a trilateral summit of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan being hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari. Ahead of his arrival in Islamabad on Thursday, Karzai told an American newspaper that his government had joined talks with the Taliban. The Taliban quickly rejected Karzai`s claim.

Militant spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban representatives had not held talks with the "powerless" government in Kabul anywhere and that the Taliban had no intention of negotiating with Karzai`s administration.

Asked about Pakistan`s offer to train the Afghan National Army during the breakfast interaction with Pakistani journalists, Karzai was quoted as saying that his government had no objection to such cooperation. However, he said there was a need to build confidence between the two sides on this issue.

In the past, the Afghan government has rejected Pakistani offers to train the Afghan armed forces and police. Karzai himself insisted on a few occasion that the Afghans will not repeat the Soviet-era mistake of sending troops to neighbouring countries for training.

Karzai also called on the Pakistan government to reopen supply routes for NATO forces in Afghanistan that were closed in November last year after a cross-order NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

He said Islamabad should restore the supply lines and levy taxes on the US and NATO for transporting supplies through Pakistani territory. Such a move would benefit both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.

Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said this week that NATO has been allowed to transport perishable items like food supplies through Pakistani airspace and ground routes.

The government has insisted that a decision on reopening the NATO supply will be taken by parliament during a comprehensive review of ties with the US.

Opposition parties have criticized the government`s decision to partially restore NATO supply routes without discussing the issue in parliament.