Most Afghan prez candidates talk of negotiating peace with the Taliban

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Kabul, Aug.18 (ANI): Most of the candidates contesting the August 20 presidential elections in Afghanistan vow to negotiate peace with the Taliban, but appear clueless about how to move effectively in that direction.

Although incumbent president Hamid Karzai has often talked about negotiating with the Taliban, little of note has happened and the government's reconciliation program for Taliban fighters is barely functioning.

Karzai, polls indicate is still the front-runner, and he is the most vocal candidate in calling for negotiations. In the past few weeks, his government has started several initiatives to approach local Taliban commanders through tribal elders, the New York Times reports.

However, Karzai's three main opponents-Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Ramazan Bashardost-are critical of his record in following through on such promises.

All three of them are opposed to the Taliban, but they also promise that if they are elected, they will make peace a priority.

Both Abdullah, who is the candidate for the largest opposition bloc, the National Front, and Ghani, a former finance minister, say the first step needs to be a grass-roots approach through community and tribal councils.

"If you lose the people, you lose the war," Abdullah said in an interview to the NYT.

Ghani advocates a cease-fire as the next step, with political negotiations only later.

The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, says peace and reconciliation must be a top priority of any new government, as does improving relations with Pakistan, which has long backed the Taliban.

The groundwork for that process needs to be laid through the winter, he says, in order to forestall another season of fighting next spring. He also says that the effort has to be broader than the reconciliation and reintegration of local commanders envisaged by the United States military.

The United States and NATO want to negotiate from a position of strength, diplomats and military officials said.

"Reconciliation is important, but not now," said one Western diplomat in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The few senior members of the Taliban who have come over to the government warn that there is so much distrust of the government and foreign forces that it is deterring even low-level members of the Taliban. (ANI)

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