Karzai says new US plan is best chance for peace

Washington’s new plan for a transitional government that includes the Taliban is the best chance to accelerate stalled peace talks between the group and the Afghan government, former president Hamid Karzai said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Karzai said after decades of war, Afghans themselves “are in a hurry for peace”.

The new proposal was delivered early last week by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah and other politicians and former government leaders. Later in the week Khalilzad met with Taliban representatives and put the plan to them.

No decisions have yet been made by either side on the proposal nor have there been any new developments in the past 10 days on the peace talks process in Doha.

But according to Karzai, the proposed U.S. peace plan contains important provisions that could help bring peace to Afghanistan — with some revisions by both sides.

However, Ghani has long opposed the idea of an interim government.

Karzai meanwhile told AP the U.S. proposal can shepherd a war-weary nation to elections; it protects rights of women and minorities, offers a way to achieve constitutional reform and proffers an interim administration.

“Peace is such a deep, deep, deeply desired wish of the Afghan people,” said Karzai. “You can’t imagine how much of a hurry we are in to reach peace for us and for our younger ones.”

He expressed hope that the U.S. proposal could serve as a catalyst for both sides to make peace perhaps even before May 1 — the deadline for a final U.S. troop withdrawal under a U.S.-Taliban deal reached a year ago.

Karzai said he was against the May 1 withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops, warning it would create chaos. He said it was in both Washington’s and Kabul’s interest to have a responsible exit.

“It’s extremely important for the United States and the U.S allies and those who (have been) involved in the past 20 years in Afghanistan to be responsible, to do things that will bring lasting peace,” he said.

“So a responsible exit or a responsible stay in a peaceful Afghanistan are both issues that we should consider very carefully.”

The Taliban have until now rejected the idea of international forces staying in Afghanistan after May 1, but Karzai said they may be convinced to accept a modified U.S. presence in a peaceful Afghanistan.

Karzai also said HCNR, of which he is a member, will meet on Sunday to review the U.S. proposal. The council will respond with proposed revisions in coming days, he said.

The council leadership is the final arbiter on what the government will accept in a peace agreement.

Karzai told AP that if Ghani’s government could bring the warring groups together “we would support it,” but he said he hasn’t been able to and warned against sacrificing an opportunity for peace to hold on to power.

Karzai also said a peaceful Afghanistan is of interest to all its neighbors but particularly Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership has been headquartered and with whom Afghanistan has had a troubled relationship.