Afghanistan's Taliban have shuttered a newly opened office in the Gulf state of Qatar, vowing to fight on against President Hamid Karzai's government while abandoning a diplomatic approach seen as the best hope of finding a political end to the protracted 12-year war.
Experts said the final withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014 offered the Taliban the hope of a military victory while limiting their incentive to press ahead with peace talks. The Taliban, they said, envisioned the talks more as a means of gaining legitimacy than as a road to peace.
The Taliban office, which opened less than a month ago to facilitate peace talks with the US and Afghan government, was mired in controversy from the outset after the religious movement was accused of trying to set up a government-in-exile by identifying its office as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It also hoisted the same white flag flown during the Taliban's five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended with the 2001 American-led invasion.
Mr Karzai reacted furiously and the Taliban lowered the flag and removed the sign. Both the US and Qatar criticised the Taliban and accused them of reneging on a promise to refrain from using either the name or the flag.
Now the office itself has been temporarily closed, a Taliban official familiar with the talks in Qatar said.
"They (the Taliban) do not go out of their homes in Doha and have not gone to the office since the removal of the flag and the plaque," the Taliban official said. He said the Taliban blamed Mr Karzai and the US for the breakdown in talks, accusing both of using the name and the flag as an excuse.
A diplomat in the region who is also familiar with the negotiations said: "The (Taliban) Political Commission has stopped all international political meetings and is not using the office."
In Doha, the office remained guarded by Qatari-appointed security along the outside walls. There were no signs of the flag or former sign. The gates to the compound were open, but there was no evidence of Taliban officials inside.
In Washington, White House press secretary James Carney said reconciliation would not be easy.
He said: "It has been a difficult process, and will continue to be. And if this effort, the Doha office effort, does not succeed, we will pursue other means and other avenues for peace. Because, ultimately, peace in Afghanistan depends on a reconciliation between Afghans."