Afghanistan peace conference urges Hamid Karzai to talk with Taliban

Afghanistan peace conference concluded with tribal and provincial leaders recommending that President Hamid Karzai drop preconditions for talks with the Taliban. They also demanded that insurgents break ties with Al Qaeda.

By , Correspondent

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    Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, listens to speeches delivered by delegates during a three day Afghanistan national peace conference in Kabul, Friday.
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Delegates concluded Afghanistan’s national peace conference Friday by backing President Hamid Karzai's push to open negotiations with the Taliban in an attempt to end the fighting here.

But the nearly 1,500 tribal elders and provincial leaders present also told Mr. Karzai that they want him to drop preconditions for such talks and for an end to air strikes in civilian areas – both proposals likely to be rebuffed by the Afghan government and Washington.

Still, Karzai struck an optimistic note to end the three-day conference, or jirga, designed to give proposals to the government on how to end a war going on nine years.

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“You have shown us the path,” Karzai told attendants assembled in a tent. “We will follow that path step by step and, God willing, we will reach the end.”

The jirga’s principle outcome – a call of peace and negotiations – was widely expected as the government closely vetted the delegates and set the parameters of the debate. Moreover, the Afghan government is not bound by the proposals.

No preconditions for Taliban talks

Among the controversial propositions include the demand that both the Taliban and the Afghan government drop any preconditions for talks. Kabul and Washington have said that they will only talk to those insurgents who lay down their weapons and accept the Afghan constitution. The insurgents, on the other hand, believe such terms constitute a surrender and refuse to start talks until foreign troops leave.

A number of delegates said the government’s demands were unrealistic.

“When they say put down your guns and accept our law and then we’ll talk, what kind of negotiation is that?” asks a delegate from the eastern province of Nangarhar, who asked not to be named.

Some rights groups and civil society organizations worry that any changes to the structure of the state or the Constitution as a result of talks with the Taliban could harm important legislation that protects women, minorities, and civil rights.

US authorities as well have reiterated that the Constitution should not be up for debate. “The United States again offers our support for an Afghan-led process that seeks to bring back into society those who cease violence, break ties with Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups, and live under the Afghan Constitution," the US Embassy in Kabul said in a statement.

No more air strikes in civilian areas

Delegates also called for limiting the action of the foreign troops, including an end to air strikes in civilian areas and a curtailing of house searches and wrongful arrests. “The foreign forces have to be brought under a legal framework so that their presence here can be regulated,” says Habibullah, a delegate who goes by one name and represents Afghan refugees in Iran. A number of others interviewed shared his sentiment.

US officials have said that curtailing house searches or placing their forces under the legal control of the Afghan government would limit their ability to wage war effectively.

But Kabul and Washington are likely to welcome some of the proposals, including one that calls for the establishment of a permanent peace commission and provincial departments that will work on trying to convince rank and file fighters to drop their arms and join the government’s side.

Delegates also demanded that insurgents renounce violence and break ties with Al Qaeda. Compliant insurgent leaders should have their names removed from the United Nations and US blacklists, the delegates said.

While analysts said that the government would likely only implement those proposals that it already agreed with, some delegates were hopeful that all propositions would be implemented. “We worked very hard and seriously for three days,” says Mira Jan, a delegate from northern Afghanistan. “We fully expect them to follow through. If not, the jirga will not be a success.”

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