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WASHINGTON — The prospects of reaching a political settlement with the Taliban may be bleak, but it is important to continue trying, according to the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
The Taliban recently opened an office in Doha, Qatar, raising hopes that the country might be on a path to an eventual political settlement. But almost as soon as the office opened, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai withdrew from the talks, angered that the Taliban flew its old flag and hung up a sign declaring the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the name used during the Taliban regime.
The flag has been removed and the sign changed, but the talks remain in limbo.
“I am not particularly optimistic,” said former ambassador Ryan Crocker. “We have to make the effort.”
Washington and Doha have said by putting up the sign and the flag the Taliban was in blatant violation of the terms of the agreement for opening an office in Qatar.
That opening gambit has damaged the mutual trust required to embark on talks, Crocker said.
“It would seem to be an extreme act of bad faith on the part of the Taliban,” he said. “I don’t think either us or the Afghan government are going to forget this.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said last week the next move is up to the Taliban.
“Now we need to see if we can get it back on track,” he said. “I don’t know whether that’s possible or not.”
The prospects of the talks had raised hopes that a captive U.S. soldier, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 27, might be released in a prisoner exchange for five Taliban being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“We cannot discuss all the details … but there should be no doubt that on a daily basis — using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools — we work to get Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Gregory said in a statement.