DOHA -- President Hamid Karzai softened his stance on the Taliban in the backdrop of meetings on t
Karzai Softens on Taliban Ahead of Doha Office Opening
DOHA -- President Hamid Karzai softened his stance on the Taliban in the backdrop of meetings on the Afghan peace process with Qatari leaders before returning to Kabul Sunday evening.
At a gathering with a select group of businessmen at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Qatar's capital city of Doha on Saturday night, Karzai said that the Taliban have never been a "preventative element" in Afghanistan's economic progress, downplaying the bad image of the insurgent group as a media beat-up.
"When I visit Europe and watch CNN, even I also get scared," he told the businessmen.
Karzai met with the Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Sunday where he was expected to discuss the formal opening of the Taliban office in Doha and the peace process in which the US and Qatar are playing a key role.
Karzai sought to assure the Qatari Sheikhs that there was no reason to worry about Afghanistan, insisting that his country offered massive investment opportunities despite the perceived dire security situation.
Without naming any specific country, he said the Taliban were a group that comprised people from all over the world who would soon return to their country of origin.
"You must have heard of the Taliban, I'm sure you have heard of the Taliban. But there's no problem. They are from all countries; sooner or later they will be back in their own country," he said.
"The Taliban ... has not been a preventive element in the investment or the economic activity in Afghanistan," he added, emphasising that in his understanding no investment has suffered because of a lack of security in the last 10 years.
Karzai listed several achievements of Afghanistan during the past decade, including telecommunications which he claimed that "the fastest growing in the world".
On the subject of a Taliban office in Doha, he said: "The Taliban peace process, when it is officially announced, the opportunities will multiply hugely," he said, adding that he was very hopeful of the outcome.
Foreign Forces to Remain After 2014
Karzai also told the businessmen that the western forces will not be leaving the country and the future is guaranteed.
"The West, the Americans and Europe - they're negotiating with us. After 2014, they will stay, they are not leaving. They want at least five bases in Afghanistan, from the north part of the country to the west.
"As we negotiate with them, they [currently] have 150,000 troops. After 2014, there will be nearly 15,000 troops which will include the US, Nato, France, Germany and up to ten countries.
"With the USA, we have our own direct negotiations. With all other countries, Nato is representing them and talking to us. So the future of the country is guaranteed because we have an equivalent good relations with China, India and Russia."
Invitation to Invest
Karzai invited the Qatari businessmen to invest in the massive natural resources of the country, citing a study that is understood to have been conducted 10 years ago.
"Afghanistan's underground resources are estimated by the Americans to be between $3 trillion and $30 trillion. Trillions!" He said.
"In terms of our underground resources, there is a material that is called the rare earth material, which is lithium and other materials. This is what the Western countries want from us, especially the Americans. They have written me a letter officially, requesting me that please give this to us. And we will give it," he added.
The Qatari businessmen at the meeting showed an interest in the gold reserves in the country, and the Afghan president said he would welcome them warmly.
He also invited the businessmen to look at investments in airlines, electricity, housing, hotel industry and banking sectors as some of the other areas where Qatari businessmen can make the investments.
The chairman of the Qatari Business Association Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani led the delegation of the men who attended the gathering, which also included Sheikh Thani Abdulaziz al-Thani, Dr Sheikh Mohammad bin Eid al-Thani, Shiekh Ali Abdulla al-Thani, Dr Sheikh Khalid bin Thani al-Thani and Dr Hussein al Abdullah.
The potential investors said they appreciated Karzai's stance and requested to visit Afghanistan soon.
Karzai replied he would send his mines and trade ministry to Qatar soon in order for the business owners to have discussions with them before coming to Afghanistan.
"My brothers, we will welcome you with open hearts," Karzai said.