Observers say Karzai-Taliban peace talks 'mostly hype'

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London, Oct. 25 (ANI): Observers of the evolving situation in war-torn Afghanistan have said the recent moves by the U.S.-led NATO coalition force to facilitate peace talks between a council appointed by President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban leaders are mere hype, and scarcely more than exchanges of cash and prisoners.

Diplomats and observers have told the Guardian that the contacts with the Taliban have been under way for several years and reflect how war is waged in Afghanistan, where talking and fighting at the same time are common.

They claim these encounters have been hyped as signs of a move towards peace as part of a misinformation campaign aimed at the Taliban leadership, or to reinforce the impression that NATOo and Afghan forces are making strategic gains.

While Karzai has claimed to "have had personal meetings with some Taliban leaders", NATO officials spoke of meetings with four Taliban commanders, including a top member of the movement claiming to express its "collective will" with the approval of its leader, Mullah Omar.

But according to officials briefed on the talks, there is, in the words of one source, "less than meets the eye".

They said the Taliban member who flew to Kabul to meet Karzai was influential, but were not members of the all-important Quetta Shura leadership council, and probably did not represent its views.

They added that Karzai did not raise the prospect of power sharing or division of territory, but rather sought to buy his Taliban interlocutors off one by one by offering cash.

In each case, the Taliban commanders asked for small amounts of money, gave no undertakings on future actions, and returned to their havens in Pakistan.

Michael Semple, a former UN and European envoy with a history of contacts with the Taliban, said: "We know this kind of thing has been going on for a long time. That is the way Karzai operates, but it's also standard operating procedure for Afghanistan."

"It's traditional for people on either side to develop linkages. The enemy go to the other side and make tactical requests. It's not just money but also requests for brothers and cousins to be let out of jail. Its a case of: give me a few bob and free my cousin," he added.

He said: "If this were a serious process they would be guarding its confidentiality for dear life."

Baryalai Helali, a member of the High Peace Council, said there had been contacts between the top of the Taliban and the government since 2002.

Wahid Mujda, a political analyst who served in a mid-ranking capacity in the Taliban government of the 1990s, said something was going on - but not the start of a serious peace process.

Alex Strick van Linschoten, an expert on the Taliban based in Kandahar, agreed.

He said: "People in conflict in Afghanistan will always extend contacts with each other. It doesn't mean peace is at hand. We are at the middle of the middle of this thing, not even the beginning of the end." (ANI)

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