Karzai says Taliban make contact for Afghan peace

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KABUL, Nov 22 (Reuters) Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Taliban insurgent leaders were increasingly contacting him to try to find ways of making peace.

Afghan and Western military leaders and diplomats recognise talks will ultimately have to be held to end the Taliban insurgency which has claimed some 5,000 lives this year alone.

But, they say, talks should be held from a position of strength.

''We have had an increasing number of contacts from Taliban from within Afghanistan and from Pakistan,'' Karzai yesterday told a news conference.

''These contacts have especially increased in the past seven or eight months. As a matter of fact only this week, I had more than five or six major contacts, approaches by the leadership of the Taliban trying to find out if they can come back to Afghanistan,'' he said.

The Taliban are far from being a unified group, NATO commanders caution, and while some leaders may be willing to enter talks, they do not speak for the whole of the hardline Islamist movement.

But talks may be useful to bring over the more moderate elements within the Taliban and divide the insurgency, they say.

''If we are speaking of a centralised authority within the Taliban with whom we can talk for peace that is not there,'' said Karzai. ''We don't know the figure or an office or someone that has contacted us representing the whole Taliban movement.

''We are willing to talk to those Taliban who are not part of al Qaeda or the terrorist network,'' he said.

There has been a steady rise in violence in Afghanistan in the last two years since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency to overthrow Karzai's pro-Western government and eject the 50,000 foreign troops from the country.

NATO NEEDS TO DO BETTER The Taliban strategy is undermine Afghan faith in the ability of Karzai's government to deliver security and inflict a constant stream of casualties on foreign forces leading Western public opinion to demand their troops be withdrawn.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is already troubled by a shortage of troops and restrictions by some member countries on where and how they are deployed.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said today that members of the alliance should provide more troops for Afghanistan and more trainers for Afghan forces.

''We should do better in giving the military commanders what they think is necessary,'' de Hoop Scheffer told the news conference after talks with Karzai.

''As far as the NATO military presence in Afghanistan is concerned, we are almost there,'' said de Hoop Scheffer. ''We have filled what the military say we need by 90 per cent, but not 100 percent, so I am not satisfied as a NATO secretary general.'' Military commanders say the best way to fight the Taliban insurgency is to train and equip Afghan forces, but there is shortage of trainers and soldiers who make up the liaison teams that fight alongside Afghan troops.

''We are not doing enough as NATO allies and NATO partner nations in what should be one of our priorities and that is training and equipping the Afghan National Army,'' said de Hoop Scheffer.

REUTERS PD RN1822

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