Taliban Attack On Presidential Palace Dims Peace Prospects

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Carol Hills: I'm Carol Hills, this is The World. The Taliban today staged a brazen attack in the heart of Afghanistan's capital. Not what you'd expect from a group that just a few days ago announced its intention to take part in peace talks. Taliban gunmen broke through several layers of security and stormed the presidential palace in Kabul. A firefight broke out, leaving eight of the gunmen and three government guards dead. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary was among a group of journalists who were approaching the palace gates when the attack began.

Bilal Sarwary: Suddenly we heard gunfire followed by huge sounds of explosions 10 to 15 meters away from where we were. We managed to run for another 20 meters or so, surprisingly finding an eight year old school student crying, and he was also stuck in this attack on his way to school. For the next 40 minutes or so we saw presidential guards returning fire. Personnel from the Ariana hotel also returned fire. American personnel as well as the Afghans there, that has been the home of the CIA for the last 12 years.

Hills: There have been other Taliban attacks in central Kabul, but Sarwary says this one was more worrisome than the others.

Sarwary: Usually it's a security success but an intelligence failure. By that I mean that security forces are very quick in reacting to these attacks, but today's attack is different. This is the area of the presidential palace. President Karzai lives and works 700 meters away, and there are Special Forces patrolling that area, specifically in place to prevent attacks and to provide security. After all, this is the palace where world leaders, and western leaders in particular, have been visiting the president for the last decade or so.

Hills: That was the BBC's Bilal Sarwary who was near the presidential palace in Kabul during today's Taliban attack. Davood Moradian directs the Afghan institute for strategic studies. He served as a foreign affairs advisor to President Karzai from 2006 to 2011. Moradian says many Afghans feel that their government has been cut out of the current peace process, and he himself thinks that in pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, Washington is favoring the interests of Pakistan rather than those of the government in Kabul.

Davood Moradian: The most conversation has been taking place between Washington and Islamabad in the absence of the Afghan government. And right now in Kabul you would find very few people who would trust Washington in handling the peace process because many people in Kabul feel that there's a kind of behind deal between Washington and Islamabad at the expense of Afghan sovereignty and Afghan independence.

Hills: Let's move to the subject of President Hamid Karzai. There's very mixed feelings about him and his ability to negotiate peace with the Taliban right now. I mean, do you think he's up to the task?

Moradian: Karzai's administration is exhausted. It has been in power for over 10 years, and it does not have any more political and institutional energy to dedicate to peace process. Therefore many in Afghanistan are calling for a new president which we'll have next year. And the next president would have a stronger mandate for peace process in Afghanistan. So, please don't rush. Wait another 10 months or so, then there would be a new administration in Kabul. Not a lame duck, not an exhausted administration that now Kabul government represents.

Hills: I'm just curious; you worked side by side with President Karzai for many years. There's some in the U.S. who think he's sort of erratic and not reliable. What would you say to that?

Moradian: On the bigger picture he has been extremely consistent, unlike his American counterparts. But that consistency, that clarity has not been forthcoming from Washington. George Bush has a different approach towards Afghanistan, President Obama has changed his mind almost every three months here, Karzai and Washington have reinforcing each other's bad behavior.

Hills: Davood Moradian directs the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies. He served as a foreign affairs advisor to President Karzai from 2006 to 2011. Davood Moradian, thank you very much.

Moradian: Thank you.