‘Taliban in talks about talks’

March 15th, 2009 - 5:47 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 15 (IANS) US President Barack Obama’s recent call for a “reconciliation process” in Afghanistan has led to spurt in informal contacts between Taliban militants and other stakeholders in a series of capitals, including New Delhi, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Key players in the move include Abdullah Anas, an Algerian who was once close to Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden but now preaches moderation to young Muslims in British mosques, Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and Qayum Karzai, the Afghan president’s brother and his representative in the talks.

The Sunday Times said clerics and other influential figures have been “shuttling back and forth” between Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Kabul and that Muqrin visited Islamabad, New Delhi and Kabul in January to talk to both sides.

Further meetings are due in Dubai later this month and in Saudi Arabia next month and for the first time the talks have been approved by the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the paper said.

It quoted Anas as saying, “The Taliban are in a strong position now, but that doesn’t mean they can control the state. Afghan people will not give them loyalty again and they know that. A big, big step has happened… For the first time there is a language of talk and a language of peace on both sides.”

It said the first meeting took place last September when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia used a reception at Mecca to bring together some of the warring sides.

Those present included Mullah Muhammad Ghaus, a former Taliban foreign minister, Abdel Hakim Mujahed, a former Taliban representative at the United Nations and Qayum Karzai.

Qayum Karzai told the paper, “I have been meeting Taliban for the past five days and I can tell you Obama’s words created enormous optimism among both sides.”

The Sunday Times said Britain has proposed the appointment of a “reconciliation czar” and that peace proposals include an initiative similar to the Open Arms programme in Vietnam, under which Vietcong fighters were paid to defect.

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