Afghanistan denies secret negotiations with Taliban


KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government on Wednesday denied reports that secret high-level talks
with the Taliban had begun, although signals from various quarters
suggested back-channel contacts with the insurgency were gathering

Renewed attention to the prospect of engaging the
Taliban leadership in negotiations comes against a backdrop of growing
violence, particularly in Afghanistan’s south, where NATO forces are stepping up a confrontation with the Islamist insurgents.

Over a period of less than 48 hours on Monday and Tuesday, a series of bombings in and near Kandahar
killed 13 people, as many as nine of them said to be children, and the
city’s deputy mayor and a former district leader were assassinated, all
in attacks blamed on the Taliban.

NATO, for its part, said Wednesday it had killed the Taliban “shadow governor” of Faryab, a northern Afghanistan province where the insurgency had become pronouncedly more active in recent months.

Karzai denounced the Kandahar bombings as the work of “enemies of Afghanistan” who had abandoned Islamic principles.

But such condemnations often go hand in hand with pleas for insurgents to come to the bargaining table.

In an emotional speech last week, shortly after a
deadly attack on a provincial deputy governor, the Afghan leader
referred to Taliban fighters as “compatriots,” urging them to renounce

With the war entering its 10th year on Thursday, reports this week by the pan-Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera and The Washington Post
cited Afghan and Arab sources as saying that Taliban representatives —
with the apparent blessing of the movement’s supreme leader, Mullah
Mohammed Omar — had embarked on talks with the Karzai government.

Karzai’s deputy spokesman, Hamed Elmi,
said Wednesday there were “no contacts on the high levels” between the
government and the Taliban but acknowledged that indirect lower-level
talks had been taking place. The president last week named a 70-member
“peace council” tasked with overseeing any formal negotiations.

Waheed Mojdeh, who was a member of the Taliban
government during the movement’s five-year reign, expressed doubts that
Omar had yet authorized anyone to speak for him directly.

“As far as I know, there is nobody who can
represent” Omar, he said. “For a long time now, there have been these
kinds of talks and contacts.”

Mojdeh, who is generally seen as familiar with the
thinking of the Taliban leadership, says any substantive talks would be
covert and that the peace council Karzai had named is likely “for show.”

Senior Western officials have spoken openly in
recent days about preliminary overtures to the insurgents by Karzai’s
government and vice versa.

Mark Sedwill, the senior civilian NATO representative, said at a news conference in Washington last week that efforts to bring the Taliban into the political mainstream were at an “embryonic stage.” Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander of Western forces in Afghanistan,
told reporters last week that “very high-level Taliban leaders … have
sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government.”


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