Karzai in touch with senior Taliban leaders: Afghan official

November 18th, 2008 - 4:10 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Nov 18 (IANS) Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in touch with the senior leadership of former ruling Taliban that went underground after the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops landed in the war torn country after 9/11, says a senior Afghan official.”Yes, Hamid Karzai is in touch with them (Taliban) for some time and wants to establish long term peace in Afghanistan,” the senior Afghan official visiting Pakistan told IANS, while requesting anonymity.

The official said that the foreign minister in the Taliban regime Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil and former Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef are “regular visitors” to the presidency in Kabul.

Zaeef, commonly known as Mullah Zaeef, was detained in Pakistan in 2002 and held as an ‘unlawful combatant’ in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp till 2005.

The official said that it is no more a secret that several “local” decisions by the Karzai administration are being taken with their “consent” and a close relative of Mutawakkil holds an important office in the presidency.

The official said that the Taliban still have “sizeable” number of following in Kabul and many other provinces. According to him, many of the Taliban era officials still can be seen moving freely on Kabul roads and they have the “blessings” of the Karzai administration.

On Sunday, Karzai offered to provide secure passage to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar if he agreed to enter peace talks, and suggested that the US and other western nations could leave the country or oust him if they disagreed.

His comments came as international political and military leaders are increasingly mulling whether negotiating with the Taliban is necessary as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan.

The official said that the Taliban are ready to “formally” talk to the Karzai administration if the US-led ISAF and NATO forces leave the country. He quoted Mullah Zaeef as saying, “let’s decide our own fate once the US leaves the country.”

The Karzai administration has long supported drawing the Taliban into the political mainstream on the condition that they accept the country’s constitution.

“If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices, remove me or leave if they disagree,” Karzai said in Sunday’s news conference.

Omar headed the government toppled by the US-led invasion in 2001. Since then, he has been in hiding but is believed to be masterminding the insurgency.

The official said that the Taliban leadership in Kabul has assured the Karzai administration that they will ensure “countrywide peace” if the government convinces the US-led forces to leave the country.

However, the official said that there are many people within the Karzai administration who are “deadly” against the Taliban but he added that their position was becoming weak since the Republicans lost this month’s elections in the US.

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