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Controversy over Taliban arrest overshadows Kerry Afghanistan talks

Guardian staff and agencies


Afghan government spokesman says Latif Mehsud was seized by US from intelligence agents trying to recruit him

October 13, 2013

Reports that the US arrest of a senior Taliban commander was carried out despite his being in the custody of the Afghan government threatened on Saturday to overshadow talks between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The talks are part of a last-ditch effort to negotiate a security pact which would determine, among other things, how many US troops stay in the country after 2014.

Kerry and Karzai said later on Saturday that major issues over a bilateral security agreement had been resolved but the question of immunity for US troops would have to be decided by a assembly of elders and leaders.

One sticking point in the talks had been a US request to run independent counter-terrorism missions on Afghan territory. On Saturday, however, the Afghan government said the US had seized a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, Latif Mehsud, from Afghan intelligence agents attempting to recruit him.

On Friday a State department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said US forces had captured Mehsud, whom she described as a senior commander with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, also known as Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan. She said the group had claimed responsibility for the attempted 2010 bombing of Times Square in New York, as well as many attacks within Pakistan. Harf did not say when Mehsud's arrest happened or where he was being held.

A spokesman for Karzai, told the Washington Post Mehsud had been taken by the US from a government convoy in the east of the country. The spokesman said: "The Americans forcibly removed him and took him to Bagram."

Earlier on Saturday, regarding the talks, Kerry told reporters and US embassy staff: "We will try to see if we can make a little more progress, which we have been doing."

Karzai's spokesman told reporters: "There are still issues we are finalizing, therefore there is a need for a third round of talks this evening."

Kerry told US Embassy staff after the meetings recessed that "we've had a terrific day. We're going back to the palace to enjoy dinner with the president and more importantly we're going to see if we can make a little more progress, which is what we have been trying to do all day long.

"If this thing can come together, this will put the Taliban on their heels," he added. "This will send a message to the community of nations that Afghanistan's future is being defined in a way that is achievable."

While the US is keen to conclude the negotiations quickly, the Afghan president has said the pact can wait until after the country's elections, which are due in April. Progress towards an agreement was made on the first day of talks, on Friday, according to both Afghan and US officials.

Most foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and without a deal the United States could pull out all of its forces in an outcome known as the "zero option", which was unthinkable until a few months ago. The collapse of similar talks between the US and Iraq in 2011 ľ triggered partly by Baghdad's refusal to provide immunity to US soldiers serving there ľ led to the US pulling its troops out of the country.

Afghan security has been deteriorating, increasing worry about the country's prospects after western forces leave. On Saturday, a car bomb killed four people in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Efforts to draw the Taliban into negotiations have come to nothing. The militants say they will fight on until all foreign forces leave and they dismiss Karzai as a US "puppet".



Source


:: Article nr. 101660 sent on 13-oct-2013 22:09 ECT

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