Taliban in Talks with Karzai Government: Report

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Agence France-Presse

Taliban in Talks with Karzai Government: Report

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WASHINGTON — The Taliban and the government of Afghan President
Hamid Karzai have begun high-level talks over a negotiated end to the
war in the country, the Washington Post said.

Citing unnamed
Afghan and Arab sources, the Post said the talks are believed, for the
first time, to involve representatives authorized by the Quetta Shura,
the Afghan Taliban group based in Pakistan, and Taliban leader Mohammad
Omar.

"They are very, very serious about finding a way out," a source close to the talks told the Post, referring to the Taliban.

Omar
and other Taliban leaders on both sides of the border have insisted for
years that no peace talks were possible before foreign fighters had
left Afghanistan.

But sources told the Post that the leadership
knows "that they are going to be sidelined," and was negotiating to
ensure their positions were protected.

"They know that more radical elements are being promoted within their rank and file," the source said.

"All
these things are making them absolutely sure that, regardless of [their
success in] the war, they are not in a winning position."

The
negotiations involve agreements to allow Taliban leaders positions in
the Afghan government and the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the
newspaper said.

But the talks are believed to exclude
representatives of the Haqqani group, which the Post said was the target
of recently escalated US drone attacks.

US General David
Petraeus, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, said last week
that the Taliban was approaching the Afghan government and foreign
forces with "overtures" about quitting the fight.

"There have
already been 20 or so overtures from small groups around the country,"
he told AFP, referring to a program aimed at reintegrating mid-level
Taliban commanders and grassroots fighters back into Afghan society.

A
Taliban spokesman dismissed Petraeus's comments as "completely
baseless," however, saying the insurgents would not "negotiate with
foreign invaders or their puppet government."

Petraeus also said
NATO supported efforts by Karzai to open peace talks with the Taliban
leadership, and in some cases had helped the process along.

"President
Karzai has established very clear red lines for it, and in this case we
support what it is the Afghan government is doing, and in some
occasions facilitated as well," Petraeus said in the interview with AFP.

But
European officials told the Post that US representatives had been
lukewarm to the idea of negotiations until this summer, fearing the US
domestic repercussions of talking to the Taliban.

That changed
this summer, European sources said, when escalated combat in Afghanistan
produced disappointing results and US public opposition to the war
ramped up.

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