Secret Taliban-Afghan govt talks to end war underway: Sources

Kabul, Oct 5 (ANI): High- level talks between the Hamid Karzai-led Afghanistan government and the Taliban have secretly begun for negotiating an end to the war in the country, Afghan and Arab sources have revealed.

According to the sources, it is for the first time that the Taliban representatives are fully authorized to speak for the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban organization based in Pakistan, and its leader, Mohammad Omar, the Washington Post reported.

"They are very, very serious about finding a way out," disclosed one source close to the talks, talking about the Taliban.

Although Omar's representatives have always insisted that negotiations are impossible until all foreign troops withdraw, sources said the Quetta Shura has begun to talk about a comprehensive agreement that would include participation of some Taliban figures in the government and the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops on an agreed timeline, the report said.

The leadership knows "that they are going to be sidelined," the source said, adding, "They know that more radical elements are being promoted within their rank and file outside their control . . . All these things are making them absolutely sure that, regardless of (their success in) the war, they are not in a winning position."

Half-dozen sources, directly involved in or on the margins of the talks, agreed to discuss them on the condition of anonymity, expressing concern that any public description of the meetings would undercut them, the paper added.

"If you talk about it while you're doing it, it's not going to work," said one European official whose country has troops in Afghanistan.

According to the report, last week at the International Peace Institute in New York, Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. representative in Afghanistan, remarked, "We all concur that this is a critical year in Afghanistan... There is no military solution. We all know it. And by the way, the Taliban knows it too . . . . And there is only one format for the next months . . . . It is political dialogue, reconciliation, deal."

He predicted "very rough months" ahead, "when the maximum pressure is being exercised . . . by both sides at the same time in order to have a better position in terms of the so-called dialogue."

Among the potential roadblocks, he cited opposition from a resurgent Northern Alliance, the non-Pashtuns who overthrew the Taliban with U.S. assistance in 2001, and division of the Taliban into "several groups."

Several sources told the paper that the discussions do not include representatives of the Haqqani group, which is seen as more closely tied to the Pakistani intelligence service than the Quetta Shura, based in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

But one Afghan source, reflecting tension between the two governments, said Pakistan's insistence on a central role in any negotiations has made talks difficult even with the Quetta group.

"They try to keep very tight control," this source said of the Pakistanis.

Although the US has long said the war would not be won by military means alone, sources said the Obama administration only recently appeared open to talks rather than resisting them, the report said.

"If you strip everything away, that's the deal here. For so long, politically, it's been a deal breaker in the United States, and with some people it still is," said one European official.

Last month, Obama pressed his national security team to be more specific about what it meant by a political solution, and "reinforced" the need to be working simultaneously on the military and political sides of the equation, a senior administration official disclosed.

General David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, had also said last week that high-level Taliban leaders had "sought to reach out" to the top level of the Karzai government.

"This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies," he said. (ANI)

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