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Key Afghan insurgents open door to talks

The Haqqani network has agreed to discuss a peace proposal with government-backed mediators.

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"It is a matter of give and take," says Mr. Rahmani. "When Obama said there is no military solution, the Taliban and the Haqqanis saw an opening for talks."

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Jalaluddin Haqqani, who leads the group, was an influential mujahideen commander and US ally during the war with the Soviets. He later served as a minister in the Taliban government, though he never formally became a Taliban member. After the 2001 US invasion, he fled to Pakistan, and slowly built up a network of fighters. By 2007, his network emerged as an independent insurgent group, distinct from but allied to with Taliban.

The Afghan government has reached out to the Haqqani network before, but with little success. In 2007, President Hamid Karzai sent a tribal delegation and a letter to Mr. Haqqani in an attempt to sway him, but to no avail.

Even if agreements are reached with other insurgent factions, the Haqqani network's close ties to the extremists of al Qaeda may make it more difficult for the Afghan government to come to an agreement.

Toughest step: get US on board

The biggest challenge, however, is that the road map places conditions on US operations, something the Afghan government has little control over.

"It will be impossible for the American military to stop house searches," says Haroun Mir, policy analyst and director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies based in Kabul. House searches and detentions are a fundamental part of American counterinsurgency strategy, he says, and are unlikely to be abandoned.

Analysts say the Americans are more likely to give political concessions, not military ones. There have been a few instances where insurgent commanders have crossed over to the government side and were given government posts.

"Ultimately, the US will have to come to a political settlement, and that may mean a situation where insurgent leaders are brought into the government," says Mr. Mujzda.

For example, talks have taken place intermittently over the past few years between the government and representatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of HIG. Officials have reportedly considered offering him a government position.

But Jalaluddin Haqqani and other leaders of the Haqqani network are unlikely to accept any government posts without a commitment from the US to withdraw troops, says Nasrullah Stanakzai, a political analyst at Kabul University.

Moreover, there appears to be a contradiction between the Afghan government's attempts to reach out to Haqqani and recent statements by the Obama administration. Officials in Washington have said they want to reconcile with low-ranking fighters and "moderates," while isolating higher-ranking leaders. The Afghan government's initiative to reach out to Haqqani runs counter to this.

The Haqqani group, like other insurgents, are operating from a position of strength, says Mr. Stanakzai. "The Afghan government initiated these talks, not the other way around. The Afghan government will have to try to convince the Americans to come on board, otherwise these negotiations won't be fruitful."

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