Taliban denies meeting UN Afghanistan envoy

The denial illustrates the difficulties the international community will face in implementing fresh plans to reconcile with segments of the Taliban.

The Taliban on Saturday denied reports that its leaders met with the United Nations envoy to Afghanistan in Dubai this month.

Coming just days after an international conference on Afghanistan that focused on reconciliation with the Taliban and crafting a withdrawal strategy, the denial illustrates the difficulties the international community will face in implementing those plans.

According to The Washington Post, the Taliban’s denial came in response to news reports that members of the Taliban’s leadership met with the UN’s outgoing special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide. The UN did not confirm that the reported meeting took place, but the Post reports that a former minister in the Taliban’s government said that it did occur, while a former Taliban official said that former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef participated in the talks.

The Post reports that the Taliban issued a statement calling reports of a meeting “futile and baseless rumors,” and urged the continuation of jihad against invaders.

Western officials in Kabul said that the majority of the Taliban leadership, thought to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, remain staunchly opposed to negotiations with coalition forces. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Eide's meeting as "a first step" toward setting up future talks.

The BBC reports that Mr. Eide denied that talks took place in Dubai on Jan. 8, but has not commented on other dates.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday once again urged Taliban militants to reconcile with the Afghan government, and said a tribal assembly would be convened in Kabul to discuss how to implement the reconciliation efforts, reports Pakistani daily Dawn.

The Guardian reported Friday that the Taliban leader in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohamed Omar, is ready to end ties with Al Qaeda, according to a former Pakistani intelligence officer. The officer, Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar, dismissed the report of talks in Dubai, adding that talks could only succeed if Omar was engaged.

If Mr. Omar is really ready to cut ties with Al Qaeda, it would be a significant development because of the international community’s unwillingness to negotiate with militants who are linked to Al Qaeda. At the international conference in London Thursday, participants agreed on a $300 to $500 million fund for reconciliation of non-Al Qaeda-linked Taliban militants, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

The Monitor reported in December that the US strategy for reconciliation hinges on its hopes for more success on the battlefield, which the US says will help to win over low- and mid-level insurgents, putting the Taliban in a weaker position. But a Newsweek analysis suggests that any efforts to buy Taliban loyalty will be unsuccessful.

If the [Taliban] leadership, commanders, and subcommanders wanted comfortable lives, [says Newsweek reporter Sami Yousafzai], they would have made their deals long ago. Instead they stayed committed to their cause even when they were on the run, with barely a hope of survival. Now they're back in action across much of the south, east, and west, the provinces surrounding Kabul, and chunks of the north. They used to hope they might reach this point in 15 or 20 years. They've done it in eight. Many of them see this as proof that God is indeed on their side.
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