Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai says he's talking to the Taliban

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai confirmed that he's talking to the Taliban, seeking a political settlement with the group that harbored Al Qaeda prior to and just after 9/11.

By , Correspondent

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    Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai talks to Afghans in the Argandab district of Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday. Karzai confirmed in an interview, scheduled to be broadcast Sunday, that the Afghanistan government is in talks with the Taliban in search of a settlement.
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Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said that his government has been in talks with the Taliban, the highest-level confirmation yet that his government is exploring a political settlement with the islamist militant group.

The comments came in an interview with Larry King set to be broadcast in full on CNN tonight. Excerpts were released on Sunday.

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Karzai told King that his government had long had unofficial contact with the Taliban, and that he hoped official talks could begin now that a peace council was created for that purpose.

We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman, talk in that manner. Not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time. ...

Now that the peace council has come into existence, these talks will go on, and will go on officially and more rigorously, I hope.

Karzai drew a sharp line between Taliban that should be rehabilitated into Afghanistan society, and members of Al Qaeda or other groups who "cannot be accepted."

The Taliban, those of whom who are Afghans and the sons of Afghans soil who have been driven to violence by various factors beyond their control... we want them to come back to their country.They are like kids who have run away ... from the family.

But those who are a part of Al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks who are ideologically against us or who are working against Afghanistan knowingly and out of the purpose of hatred and enmity - those of course we have to work against.

Karzai was responding in part to King's request for comment on recent reports, including in the Christian Science Monitor, which said that the Afghanistan government had been holding secret talks with the Taliban.

The 68-member High Peace Council, whose members were chosen by Karzai, was inaugurated October 7, according to the Agence France-Presse. On Sunday, former Afghanistan president Burhanuddin Rabbani was appointed chairman of the council.

Some analysts have expressed skepticism about the council, saying it's stacked with too many warlords, crooks and criminals to be successful. The council includes some of the major participants in Afghanistan's 1992-1996 civil war, which the UN estimated killed 80,000 civilians and ended when the Taliban and their allies took power.

The Taliban have publicly insisted they will not enter talks with the government until foreign troops leave Afghanistan, something that has foiled previous attempts at dialogue, according to the BBC.

Roughly 152,000 NATO troops -- the majority American -- are deployed to Afghanistan to help the government battle the Taliban.

The US has said it supports peace talks, though it declines to negotiate with the Taliban directly, according to Bloomberg News. A US State Department spokesman said recently that Washington distinguishes between Taliban moderates and hardliners.

We believe that some of these groups may well be willing to seek a political solution. We recognize that other groups will be holdouts and that’s why we are intensively bringing the fight to them.

The Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001 with the help of US special forces, the CIA and massive US bombing. But the Taliban still controls swathes of southern and eastern Afghanistan, and has foiled Kabul's attempt to extend its writ throughout the countryside.

About 2,144 NATO coalition troops have died since the conflict began in 2001, according to the website iCasualties.org.

According to a recent Associated Press analysis, public support for the conflict is slipping in the U.S. and Europe, and patience is running out. The Netherlands was the first country to withdraw all of its troops, the AP said, and Canada will be next.

In a commentary early this year on prospects for a political settlement in Afghanistan, Mohamed Abdel-Magid wrote that the Taliban have boycotted past efforts at talks, including the so-called "peace jirga" -- or tribal assembly of elders -- this past June. He said a deal with the Taliban was unlikely as long as NATO's military campaign continues.

Even Hamid Karzai, who has subordinated himself to U.S. pressure, advocates negotiation with Taliban groups. But the continued presence of foreign troops and military offensives will derail a political settlement, whether sought through the jirga process or any other form of negotiation.

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