US, Britain, and UN weigh options amid rising violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan
Prospect of Afghan-Taliban peace talks gains currency
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A former Taliban ambassador said Monday that the hard-line militants sat with Afghan officials and Saudi King Abdullah over an important religious meal in Saudi Arabia late last month as the insurgency raged back home.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, denied that the get-together could be construed as peace talks. But President Hamid Karzai has long called for negotiations with the Taliban, and the meeting could spur future initiatives.
Whatever the nature of the meeting, the idea of peaceful negotiations has gained greater currency in recent days. The Sunday Times reports that an outgoing British general has said war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily.
The departing commander of British forces in Afghanistan says he believes the Taleban will never be defeated.
Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade... told The Times
that in his opinion, a military victory over the Taliban was "neither feasible nor supportable."...
He indicated that the only way forward was to find a political solution that would include the Taliban.
Speaking on board a flight to Budapest to meet Nato defence ministers, Mr Gates rejected the assertion made by Brig Carleton-Smith that a "decisive military victory" should not be expected.
"While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run," he said.
But Mr. Gates agreed that part of the solution to the conflict would involve talks with members of the Taliban who are willing to work with the Afghan government.
A top United Nations official in Kabul called for a political solution, the AP reports.
With U.S. and NATO forces suffering their deadliest year so far in Afghanistan, the top U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, said Monday that the war "has to be won through political means."
Mr. Eide raised the question of how engagement would actually proceed, but reiterated its importance, the AP adds.
"...Then comes a question – with whom do you engage? My general answer is that if you want to have relevant results you must speak to those who are relevant," Eide told a news conference. "But these are processes that are very difficult to initiate. Nevertheless, in my view a policy of engagement is the right policy."