Talking with the Taliban? Afghanistan Open to Dialogue With Militants

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has said he is open to holding talks with moderate Taliban in order to secure peace in his country. But do the Islamists want to talk?

Is it time to talk with the Taliban? Here, Taliban guerrilla leader Mullah Hayatullah Khan.

Is it time to talk with the Taliban? Here, Taliban guerrilla leader Mullah Hayatullah Khan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he is willing to hold talks with members of the Taliban in order to ensure stability in the country.

The Islamist militants have threatened to launch a spring offensive in Afghanistan in the coming weeks but Karzai is hoping to persuade pragmatics to split from the hardliners. He would even consider including Taliban in his government, he said. "I will embrace Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for peace in Afghanistan. For stability in Afghanistan. But it is the Afghan people who should decide on the atrocities committed against the Afghan people," he told DER SPIEGEL.

According to Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, negotiations have to take place at the highest level to prevent the war from spreading throughout the entire country. "The talks should include all the parties," he told DER SPIEGEL. Muttawakil, who also served as Mullah Omar's spokesman under the Taliban regime, surrendered to the Americans following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He now lives in Kabul and still maintains good ties with the Taliban leadership. Muttawakil and Karzai met last week in the presidential palace in the Afghan capital for a five-hour meeting to exchange ideas.

But it is unclear how affective this strategy might be. While Karzai is willing to consider all the options to try to prevent further bloodshed, the Americans refuse point blank to hold talks with the Taliban. And the feeling appears to be mutual. The Quetta Shura -- the Taliban council that control the Koran schools in the Pakistan city of Quetta and is thought to plan attacks in Afghanistan -- have ruled out any compromises with the "puppet government" in Kabul. The resurgent Taliban have used the tribal border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a stronghold to regroup.

Under pressure from Washington, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has launched a crack down on the Islamic militants in recent weeks. The former Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund is reported to have been arrested in Pakistan last Monday, although this has not been confirmed by the Pakistani government. Five other militants are being held after a raid in Quetta this weekend, Reuters reports.

So far, Musharraf had been reluctant to launch a full assault on the Taliban leadership in Pakistan. He fears that the Islamist extremists, which up to now have been able to move relatively freely in the south-west of the country, could start to attack him and his regime. However, the visit by US Vice President Dick Cheney last week seems to have had some affect. Cheney asked Musharraf to do more to hunt down Taliban fighters on the border with Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, events in Afghanistan over the past few days have shown just how volatile the situation remains.

On Sunday, US troops killed 10 Afghan civilians and wounded another 35 after their convoy was hit by a suicide attack. Witnesses say the three humvees fired indiscriminately along a six-mile stretch of busy highway, hitting 14 to 15 vehicles, as they fled the attack. The incident prompted angry demonstrations in the region, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the Pakistan border, with some people shouting "Death to America! Death to Karzai!" President Karzai condemned the deaths on Monday and ordered an inquiry.

And on Monday a NATO airstrike hit a house during a firefight between Western troops and militants, killing nine Afghans who lived there. According to Afghan officials, militants had fired on a NATO base in Kapisa province just north of Kabul, and when soldiers returned fire they hit a home, killing a man five women and three boys.



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