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What will Afghanistan President Karzai say in London?

Sixty nations convene in London Thursday to discuss Afghanistan's future. Will President Karzai announce plans to bring Taliban into his government? Will he criticize US role in Afghanistan?

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United Nations officials say Karzai is willing to bring Taliban into his cabinet and to appoint Taliban to district governorships provided they fulfill three tough conditions. They must abandon violence, accept the Afghan constitution — with its guarantees for women's rights — and break all ties with al Qaida.

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For the moment only one serious advance toward peace talks will occur, and that is to end travel sanctions and freezing of assets for five former Taliban officials. Russia informed the U.N. Security Council Monday that it had agreed to lift the sanctions. They include Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, now living in Kabul.

The problem, from the government people respective, is that the Taliban leadership, who now have named shadow governors in nearly every province of the country, have no intention of talking.

The Afghan National Security Directorate, the country's premier intelligence agency, says the only thing that will drive the Taliban to talks is pressure by Pakistan. Pakistan should arrest the leadership . . . severely restrict the freedom of movement, and end their impunity, in order to bring that pressure to bear, a senior NDS official told McClatchy last week. He could not be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

There is no sign, however, that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency or its army is willing to do anything of the kind, according to U.N. officials and Western diplomats.

Karzai intends to take the lead in trying to woo Taliban of every level into supporting the government. He added a note of confusion, however, in a BBC interview last week when he said he favored "peace at any cost" — a phrase associated with Western governments' appeasement of Hitler the late 1930s.

Despite the Western perspective on the futility of talks with the Taliban, McClatchy reported this week that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar might be open to negotiations over a political settlement to the war.

Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, a former operative of Pakistan's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, told McClatchy that he was sure Omar would talk because any bellicose bid to split the Taliban insurgency would fail, said Tarar, who knows Omar personally.

The London conference is expected to discuss and approve plans prepared in the past two months by Afghan experts on ending corruption, improving governance and coordinating international development programs.

The test will be in the implementations, however. "Papers are papers," one Western diplomat said.



(McClatchy special correspondent Saeed Shah in Islamabad contributed to this article.)




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