Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told The AP in an interview on the sprawling palace grounds in Kabul that the president was frustrated by what he perceives are attempts by his political opponents and the West, including the United States, to use the peace process to lay the groundwork for a post-2014 Afghanistan led by those hand-picked by them.
This latest flap between Karzai and the West could halt or at least delay the official opening of a Taliban office in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar. The office is intended to give the Taliban an address from which they can conduct peace talks. Faizi said Karzai supports the office "in principle," with some conditions.
"This office should be used only as an address for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban," Faizi said. "This office should not be used for any other purpose."
Faizi also said the president wants the Taliban to publicly announce that they will negotiate peace only with the Afghan High Peace Council. So far, the Taliban have resisted, although officials close to the president say privately that they appear to be softening their hard-line stance.
Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, seemed uncompromising when he spoke to The AP.
"There is no change in the policy of the Islamic Emirate of not talking to the Karzai government," he said "The Karzai regime is powerless and installed by others. Real parties to the conflict are those who have committed aggression."
But still the Taliban have shown signs of moderating their positions in recent months.
According to several Western officials, who are involved or knowledgeable about the process, the most telling sign of flexibility came in a statement issued late last year by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. In the statement marking the Islamic holy holiday of Eid al-Adha, Omar for the first time offered to share power. He also said he had no interest in starting a civil war.
"As to the future political destiny of the country, I would like to repeat that we are neither thinking of monopolizing power nor intend to spark off domestic war," he said.
While still firm on his demand for Sharia or Islamic law, in Afghanistan, the Taliban leader, who rarely speaks and has a $10 million bounty on his head, did seem to take a few steps back from the harsh and regressive edicts and interpretations of Islamic law that characterized the Taliban's five-year rule. Many of those edicts were directed at women, denying them education and the right to work. He also seemed to extend an olive branch to Afghanistan's other ethnic groups.
"We will guarantee rights of both male and female of the country, build economic structures and strengthen social foundations and facilities of education for all people of the country," he said.
But Omar's flexibility only went so far. He still insisted on an Islamic education system. While the West has been pressing for secular education, many of Afghanistan's current leaders support a Quran-based education system.
A senior member of the High Peace Council, who met with Taliban on the sidelines of the two conferences in France and Tokyo, said they also vowed to make child marriages illegal and outlaw a common practice among ethnic Pashtuns to use their daughters as barter to settle disputes.
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon
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