Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai talks to reporters on Capitol Hill May 7, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai talks to reporters on Capitol Hill May 7, 2009 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai alternately taunted and courted the Taliban in a speech Thursday, inviting them to open an office in Kabul as an opposition party.

"To the armed opposition of Afghanistan, who have foreign guns on their shoulders … I ask Mullah Omar, if he is not working for others, if he is an Afghan, to come to Afghanistan and talk to us," Karzai said, the "foreign guns" an apparent reference to alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban. "The foreigners are leaving, so come and talk to us. Political parties can have their offices and say what they want about the government. Put down your guns and open an office."

In his invitation to the Taliban, Karzai mentioned Hezb-e-Islami, the insurgent group whose political wing is active in politics and even has a member in Karzai's cabinet.

But the Taliban has balked at talks with Karzai, whom they regard as an American puppet, instead demanding to deal with the U.S. government, who they see as the real power in Afghanistan. Talks, though, between the U.S. and the Taliban have stalled, in part over a disagreement about a prisoner exchange that is thought to include the release of the Afghan war's only American POW, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in June 2009 and is thought to be held by the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman who goes by Zabihullah Mujahid said he needed to consult with Taliban leaders about Karzai's speech, but said talks with the U.S. are still off after disagreements over a prisoner exchange.

"There are no peace talks right now anywhere."

Basking in the glow of a successful pitch in Tokyo for continued international aid to Afghanistan, Karzai touted the pledges of support and took a swipe at the former Taliban regime.

"We are happy to have huge international support," he said. "Now it's up to us how we spend it, and we have to lay a new foundation for building Afghanistan for our children."

Addressing the Taliban directly, he said, "When you had your own government, just two countries recognized (Afghanistan). Now the world recognizes us."

Much of the focus of the Tokyo Conference was on how to combat the widespread corruption in Afghanistan and Karzai both promised reforms - he said he would sign a 16-point anti-corruption plan today - and blamed foreigners for his country's corruption.

"That money that was spent through the (Afghan) government - there is data for every penny. But that money that was not given to the Afghan government directly and were spent by foreigners, we don't have any statistics for them," he said.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

druzinh@estripes.osd.milTwitter: @druzin_stripes

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