Afghan opposition courts Taliban
Talks began in 2007, a powerful coalition revealed last week. Experts say the move, an effort to undercut the government, could draw Taliban into the political process.
The country's most powerful opposition group announced last week that they have been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban. The move signals both the growing divisions within the Afghan government and the increasing possibility that elements of the insurgent group could be drawn into the political process, say analysts.Skip to next paragraph
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Representatives of the United National Front – an assemblage of ministers, members of parliament, and warlords led by former Northern Alliance commanders – say they have held secret talks with the Taliban for at least five months.
"Leaders of some Taliban sections contacted us," says Front spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussein Fazel Sancharaki, "saying, 'We are both Muslims, we are both Afghans, and we are both not satisfied with the government's performance.' "
The government, which has had a series of secret talks with the "moderate Taliban" since 2003, has in contrast taken a different approach to negotiations. It insists that the Taliban must first surrender completely – disavow armed insurrection and accept the foreign presence.
But some observers say this strategy is too stringent and will not produce fruitful talks. "Why are they negotiating with Taliban who aren't fighting?" former Taliban official turned political analyst Wahid Muzjda asks. "The problem is with those who are fighting the government, and yet the government refuses to speak to this group."
Loosening the rules for talks
Mr. Sancharaki notes that his party will be more flexible in negotiations. "The Karzai government is using peace negotiations for political gain," he says, referring to President Hamid Karzai. "They will only talk to the Taliban if they lay down their weapons. This is impossible. But the National Front will have an agenda and a clear program for talks."
Perhaps to avoid being outmaneuvered by the opposition, Mr. Karzai's office responded by stating that both houses of parliament can negotiate directly with the insurgent group. The response marked a shift from previous policy in which Karzai tightly controlled the negotiation process.
The announcements come at a time when the government and the Taliban are feeling increased pressure to come to the table.
Last year marked the bloodiest year of the insurgency yet – the United Nations reports that Taliban attacks and NATO reprisals killed more than 6,000 people, including at least 1,200 civilians. The nation also saw more than 130 suicide attacks in 2007, and 10 percent of the country is under Taliban control, according to a recent US intelligence estimate.
Using Taliban to angle for power