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Afghan peace conference mulls talks with Taliban

Delegates to an Afghan peace conference worked to overcome differences about whether the government should negotiate with top Taliban leaders to seek an end to almost nine years of war.

world Updated: Jun 03, 2010 17:02 IST

Delegates to an Afghan peace conference worked to overcome differences about whether the government should negotiate with top Taliban leaders to seek an end to almost nine years of war.

The deliberations on Thursday, involved some 1,500 religious, tribal, provincial and other leaders picked by the government to advise President Hamid Karzai about the next steps to try to end the insurgency.

The Taliban are not attending the peace jirga, as it is known, though some delegates sympathise with the insurgents. A suicide attack aimed at the jirga as it opened in Kabul on Wednesday underscored the Taliban's opposition, though it failed to disrupt the meeting.

Karzai's government says it organised the gathering to gauge the mood of ordinary Afghans toward negotiations with the Taliban.

The Obama administration supports overtures to rank-and-file insurgents but is skeptical of a major political initiative with Taliban leaders until militant forces are weakened on the battlefield. NATO troops are preparing a big offensive this summer in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar province.

The Taliban have dismissed the jirga as a "phony reconciliation process" stacked with Karzai's supporters. They insist they will not negotiate until all foreign troops leave the country.

Delegates broke into 28 committees on Thursday to discuss issues including whether the government should negotiate directly with Taliban leaders, and if so, which ones. They will report back to the jirga chairman. The conference will end tomorrow with a communique endorsing the next steps forward.