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No Afghan-Taliban peace talks, for now

Kabul may have tried to reach out to current insurgents by meeting with former Taliban in Saudi Arabia late last month.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 9, 2008

At the table: Afghan and ex-Taliban officials met with Saudi King Abdullah.



Kabul, Afghanistan

The Taliban are not engaged in peace talks with the Afghan government, despite recent reports to the contrary, say sources close to the insurgents and the government.

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Instead, meetings held last month in Saudi Arabia – which brought former Taliban officials together with members of the Afghan and Saudi governments – may be an attempt by Kabul to start negotiations with the current Taliban.

"The meetings signal that the Afghan government is weak and is desperate for a solution," says Waheed Muzhda, a political analyst in Kabul and former official in the Taliban government.

They've come at a time when the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan is reaching unprecedented heights, causing some analysts to doubt that the militants will be interested in making peace.

Moreover, the former Taliban members who participated in the Mecca meetings may not have much sway in persuading current militants to come to the table. "These people don't represent the Taliban," Mr. Muzhda says. "Most of the people have almost no standing with the current Taliban leadership."

No current Taliban attended the meeting

Up to 17 Afghans met with Saudi leader King Abdullah and other Saudi officials over the course of four days in late September, according to sources who either attended or are familiar with the meeting. Attendees included: Mullah Muhammad Ghaus, former foreign minister under the Taliban government, which ruled Afghanistan until 2001, who currently lives in Quetta, Pakistan; Abdel Hakim Mujahed, former unofficial Taliban representative in the United Nations; and Abdul Salaam Hashimi, former director of finance for the insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami, which is currently aligned with the Taliban.

None of the attendees currently belongs to the Taliban, according to one former Taliban official who attended the meetings. Some of the attendees – such as Maulavi Arsala Rahmani, a former deputy minister and currently senator – didn't wield much influence in the former Taliban government. Others, such as former Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, have since fallen out of favor with the leadership. On the Afghan side, attendees included parliamentarian Arif Noorzai and National Security Adviser Zalmay Rasul.

Both the Afghan government and the Taliban deny that the Saudi meetings could be construed as peace talks. A statement issued late last month by fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar said that "a handful of former Taliban officials who are under house arrest or who have surrendered do not represent the Islamic Emirate," referring to the Taliban.